Seasonal cycles have ruled humanity since the beginning of time. No matter how hard we try to control them, inevitably everyone must succumb to the laws of nature. Farmers markets, by definition, work with the earthly cycles of growth and regeneration. When shopping at them, we become partners with the land, locally and regionally. The food we procure and the interactions at the markets enhance our lives with the energies of the earth and the vitality of communing with it. There is no better time to experience this than the transition from winter to spring.
Winter in the Midwest, where I lived most of my life before San Diego, is often brutally cold, yet hardy shoppers come to the markets to buy cold storage items such as apples, leeks, onions and potatoes. As the farmers gear up for spring, they order seeds, tend to cold frames, greenhouses and hoop-houses in order to get a good start on the season.
In Southern California, the hallmark of the winter season is citrus. Unique varieties such as Satsuma tangerines, Paige tangerines, Naval oranges, Mandarin oranges, Persian limes, Mexican limes, Kaffir limes and citron grace the stalls of the local markets. Lettuces, greens, herbs and vegetables are also available in moderate quantities, depending on the location of the farms and the methods used for growing, ie, permaculture, dry farming, hoop houses, plastic covers or other warming techniques. On rare occasions, usually once every few years, a frost will temper the harvest in the warmest areas.
Since the growing season here is year round, farmers stagger plantings in order to prolong the harvest of tender varieties into months instead of weeks. Examples of this are arugula, spinach, tat soi, chard and many varieties of kale. Staggered plantings of garlic, leeks and green onions do the same. San Diego farmers have to keep their market stalls filled year round, so the approach is very different from commodity farmers who supply their harvests for commercial food production, national and international supply chains
One of the joys of living in the Midwest is the arrival of spring. The animals and humans share the phenomenon with a flurry of activity. Buds pop up from half-frozen soil, birds are feathering nests and singing, land is cleared then tilled and people are running around in short-sleeves. It is a time of dramatic change and the collective mood is one of exuberance. I do miss this and hope to experience some of it when I travel to Michigan in late March for my next book tour.
I’ll be be hanging out at the Royal Oak Farmers Market with my farmer friend Don Cinzori of Cinzori Farms who, in addition to having his greenhouse planted herbs and plants, will have green garlic shoots, spinach and leeks.
Other Michigan spring delicacies to be discovered are morel mushrooms, fiddle-head ferns and asparagus. As spring progresses, baby lettuces, raspberries and sugar snap peas will bolster the drama of spring at the Michigan markets.
In San Diego, spring is different. To say there is no spring in Southern California is incorrect; it has its own unique version. While the markets of San Diego continue to bustle all winter, I always get excited when spring crops start showing up. The warm ever-constant sun brings people to the markets and the romantic days of mid-February to early-March find shoppers searching for the abundant sensual pleasures.
The first sweet strawberries appear at JR Organics in early February. Depending on the Santa Ana winds and warmth of the sun, the harvest steadily increases until it peaks in May. Giant one and two pound sweetly-fragrant Chanterelle mushrooms from the mountains near San Luis Obispo are sold.
Tender lettuces, baby kale, spinach and green elephant garlic are abundant at Sage Mountain Farms. Young broccoli, radicchio and baby beets are at Suzies Farm. Siberian Kale and cilantro accompany the basil of Archi’s Acres.
Fuerte avocados, chermoyas and guavas begin in February at Korals Tropical Fruit Farm with Kumquats and a continuing plethora of citrus in March.
Lone Oak Ranch begins to press fresh pomegranate juice. Terra Bella Ranch has the very special Livermore red walnuts, almonds and Chandler walnuts. Spring doesn’t just pop up in San Diego, it comes in like a high tide. The arrival is heralded by the bounty and festivity of the markets.
I encourage everyone to shop at the local farmers markets. Even during the off-season months, there is much to discover. In addition, we make a community connection, life is enhanced and we are healthier for it.
In the coming months I will be working on a lot of quick and easy to prepare recipes which I plan to share with my subscribers. So if you haven’t already done so, subscribe to my blog below, or on the upper right hand corner of this page.
See you at the markets!