- “Farm to Table”
- Chef Centric Restaurants
- Pop-Up Restaurants
- Gluten Free
- Gourmet Food Trucks
- “Local” and “Sustainability”
- Small food business in vogue.
With these trends, I have seen a large uptick in the interest of ”Farmer’s Markets. “Why you may ask?” The Farmer’s Market satisfies many of the demands created by these trends. For example, Chefs or foodies can purchase vegetables that were in the field less than 24-hour prior. Additionally, they can feel confident that the dishes they are serving their guests can be labeled as “Locally Grown”,”Certified Organic” and raised in a “family owned farm”. Think about your most recent visit to a gourmet restaurant, most likely you saw the the name of a farm or a reference to a local geographic area were the ingredients came from.
There are many “Farmer’s Markets” out there, although they are not all created equally. This blog post will highlight one of my favorites, The SoCo Farmer’s Market. I will attempt to explain to you my fellow foodies, why this Farmer’s Market has the “Secret Sauce” and is a “must try foodie friendly destination.”
The SoCo Farmer’s Market is relatively new to the scene, but is already making a name for itself amongst the foodie crowd. This California Certified Farmers Market operates every Saturday from 9am-2pm in the hipster centric, “So Co Collection” shopping center. This market is small, but it is culturally thriving amongst the foodie crowd due to their food offerings. Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a chic “foofoo” farmer’s market, there is something for everyone here. There are a couple of factors that makes this farmers market special and this blog post will outline a couple of them.
My Initial Impression
I recently received an invitation to tour the SoCo Farmer’s Market from the Assistant Manager, Anais Tangais. Before my scheduled arrival time, I decided to do some investigative research on this market by snooping around. I wanted to see why there has been such a buzz around this market, within the “Food Blogger” and “Mommy Blogger” circles. I pulled into the SoCo collection and found plenty of free parking. The sun was out, there was a gentle breeze, and the pleasant smell of food cooking in the air. I looked around and saw that there was about 16+ vendors in attendance and six gourmet food trucks. I strolled the aisles and could see that everything at the market was extremely well-organized and clean. I chatted with a couple of the vendors and they were friendly and greeted me with a smile. The market has a small town feel and everyone was welcome.
The crowd at the market consisted of one part families, one part serious foodie picking up recipe ingredients, and one part casual farmer market shopper. I interviewed some of the folks and asked them about their impressions of the market. A mother with two young children told me she loves shopping this market because she makes homemade baby food from the organic produce. A self-described “serious foodie” told me that he was at the farmer’s market purchasing ingredients for a dinner party.I also chatted with was a couple in their mid-thirties, who were “just out to pick up some produce for the week and have breakfast at the food trucks.”
I found my way to the information booth and met the Assistant Manager, Anais Tangais. She welcomed me to the market and took me on a grand tour to meet each of the vendors. Based on the tour, I learned the secret sauce that makes this market successful.
California Certified Farmer’s Market
A California Certified Farmers’ Market is a place where the farmers sell their goods directly to the public. Before a farmer can become a “Certified”, the farm is inspected to ensure they adhere to the organizations standards. This inspection process helps ensure that all produce sold is raised on their farm. In addition, this inspection ensures only California grown produce is sold. I learned that at a Farmer’s Market, the farmer keeps 90% of their total sales, where as they keep only 16% when their goods are sold to grocery stores.
This farmer’s market hosts several “Certified Organic Farms”, including Menos Farms, Nicolas Family Farms and Bella Vado. If you are interested in purchasing organic products, this is a good way of skipping the expensive aisles at Whole Foods Market. Unless you are “tipping like you are dripping in paint” or “Fly like a G6″, then you are most likely looking for ways to make your money stretch. Purchasing organic foods from a Farmer’s Market is a great way to get more food out of your budget.
A “Mommy Blogger” I met said she can make 7 days-worth of organic baby food on her limited budget, by shopping at the Farmer’s Market. In comparison, she can only make 3 days-worth of baby food if she shops at Whole Foods. As we were talking about produce prices, she then put her hands over her sons ears and said, “The flavor of the produce here is the Mother Fuc%ing bomb diggity.” She then removed her hands from her son’s ears and proceeding to say, “well why don’t you tell this nice man how you enjoyed the baby carrots last week.” LOLZZ I chuckled.
Clearly Labeled Products
One of the elements that I liked best about this Farmer’s Market is the careful attention paid to ensuring the customers are fully informed. All of the vendors have large banners with the name of their farm or organization above their booths. Second, each of farmers had the price of their produce clearly marked. Third, most of the produce offerings have information cards providing description of the produce, nutritional information and flavor profile.
I found these signed to be helpful when I came across a fruit called the “Cherymoya.” The sign explained it was a sweet fruit is native to South America and is eaten like an ice cream by the locals of the rainforest. The flavor was described as almost a tutti fruitti, with soft creamy/gooey flesh, and large black seeds. After reading the informational card, I felt more informed and then felt comfortable asking the farmer more information about the fruit. Based on the information provided, I purchased one and I can report it tasted fabulous with honey and graham crackers.
One of the coolest offerings at the market were recipe cards at each of the booths. The recipes were developed by the Assistant Manager, Anais Tangais, specifically for seasonal products at the market.I liked about this foodie friendly idea, as it helped me understand how to use some of the Farmer’s Market products in my recipes.
There are about 6 produce vendors at the market, each with different offerings. For example Atkin Farms featured seasonal blood oranges, three types of avocados and the cherimoya. I tasted the blood oranges and they were wonderfully sweet.
I took home a Fuerte avocado from Atkin Farms, after I was instructed that they go best in sandwiches. Speaking of avocados, did you know that avocados are named after the person who “discovered” the genetic variety of the avocado? For example Mr. Bacon discovered the Bacon avocado. The things you learn at the farmers market!
Another of my favorite produce vendors was Olivares Farms, who specializes in all types of potatoes. This farmer sold standard potatoes that you might see in your grocery store, but also some more uncommon variety of potatoes. Some of the more unusual potatoes at the market include the Spotted Purple, Hawaiian Purple, and Blue Potatoes.
Another farm I liked was Menos Farms, which had a great offering of Organic herbs, leaf and root vegetables. This farmer had a fantastic selection of large fennel bulbs, radishes, beets, cilantro, parsley, and carrots. All of the produce at this stand were remarkably large, vibrant in color and obviously recently harvested.
More than just produce
SoCo Farmer’s Market also had variety of farm fresh food products. One of my favorite vendors was Bella Vado which sells organic avocado based products made from their family orchard. Some of the avocado based products include avocado oil, skin lotion, and hair serum. I tried just a dab of the avocado skin lotion on the back of my hand and it was surprisingly smooth and velvety to the touch. Just one small dab went a long way and covered my entire right hand. My right hand was smooth for the rest of the day.
Bella Vado also has an awesome collection of avocado oils. The flavors ranged from standard to lemon. I took a bottle of this avocado oil home and used it for dipping bread and while making a stir fry. The flavor of the avocado oil is subtly present, but does not take over the palate. The results of scientific studies have indicated that the inclusion of avocado oil into the diet of adults has helped reduce their overall body fat percentage. Aside from the health benefits, the oil had an amazing flavor!
Hopkins AG Farm sells unpasteurized almonds, which are illegal to sell in commercial stores. Although, unpasteurized almonds are perfectly legal when sold at a Farmer’s Market. So what is so special about unpasteurized almonds, you may be asking? Almonds provide a high dosage of nutrients including fiber, riboflavin, vitamin E; pasteurization strips out many of these nutrients.
Unpasteurized almonds also have a much more vibrant flavor than their store-bought kin. When I tasted the raw almonds, the flavor burst in my mouth and had a subtle floral aroma. In addition to standard raw almonds, they also sold unpasteurized almond butter and several different flavored raw almonds. I personally purchased the maple flavored almonds; I finished the bag of almonds before the night was over. :/
The “Bee Honey Ladies”, sell local raw honey and honeybee based products. The “Bee Honey Ladies” are actual bee keepers, who bring their products directly from the farm to the market. Some of their products include raw honey, fresh honeycombs and bee pollen. Raw honey contains 27 minerals, 22 amino acids and 5,000 live enzymes. It keeps you healthy by fighting disease and boosting the digestive system. Bee Pollen has over 96 different nutrients and is said to have known to aid weight loss and curing a hangover; I am considering adding some bee pollen to my medicine cabinet after my bender last weekend.
Farm Fresh Meat
SoCo Farmer’s market also has a Rancher selling freshly butchered meat! De La Ranch is a 22-acre family farm based near Lake Elsinore. The animals at De La Ranch eat well, which translates to healthy and flavorful meat. For example, the pigs are raised on home-raised fruit, vegetables, grains. In addition, their beef and lamb are grass-fed and poultry are naturally pastured. Finally, De La Ranch does not use hormones or steroids. Some of the meat offerings the day I visited included pork, beef, lamb, rabbit, turkey, chicken, goose and quail.
Rancho A GoGo Food Truck recently did a joint demo on South Carolina Style Pulled Pork using De La Ranch Pork Butt. When I tasted the final product, I could taste the natural pork flavor in the dish. Dave, the Owner of De La Ranch, regularly BBQ’s samples of the meat right next to his station for the customers to try.
Freshly made Tamales from “Mr. Corn”
One of my favorite vendors at the market was Mr. Corn, who was making freshly cooked tamales, straight from the steamer. I had the good fortune of being invited into the booth and was shown how they cook their tamales on a portable steamer! You also have the option of adding a green or red sauce on top of your tamales, wet style!
It was delicious, perhaps one of the better tamales I have ever eaten. I grew up in the heart of Carson and Wilmington, so I know what good O.G. Tamale should taste like. Their tamale rivaled, the venerable tamales from “Diane’s” restaurant in Carson.
Some other fun food vendors included a fresh-baked bread vendor, Baba foods which serves Mediterranean dips and pitas and of course you must have a kettle corn station serving up different flavors of kettle corn.
High-end Gourmet Food Trucks
The SoCo Farmers market is also host to a small troupe of the best food trucks in Orange County. The Management of the Farmer’s Market carefully selects the participating food trucks based on the quality of their food, reputation and cleanliness. The Assistant Manager of the Farmers Market actually boards the trucks and inspects them for cleanliness, before they can open doors to the public. Trucks that aren’t up to par are not invited back. Some of my favorite trucks participate on a weekly basis, including Rancho A GoGo, Taco Maria, Home Skillet, Joe Youkhams Tasting Spoon, Sea Birds, Barcelona on the Go, Piaggio on Wheels, Chomp Chomp Nation and the Flip Truck.
The talented Chefs from these Gourmet Food Trucks will participate in cooking demos using ingredients gathered from the Farmer’s market. Chef Christie Morisoli, from the Home Skillet Truck, recently provided a demonstration on how to make their signature French Toast, using ingredients from the farmer’s market.
Several times a year, the SOCO market conducts a “Farm to Food Food Truck Challenge”, following the “Chopped” television show format. In this competition, the Food Truck Chefs have limited time to pick ingredients from the market, create a menu and be judged by a panel of foodies and Chefs.
Another cool event coming up on March 10th is a pop-up restaurant at the farmers market, featuring a gourmet brunch by Chef Joe Youkhan from the Tasting Spoon and Chef Carlos Salgado from Taco Maria. At this event (March 10th, 2012), you will be stuffed with a four course meal served tableside. This pop-up restaurant is the best way to experience “Farm to Table” freshness. I think there may still be tickets available, follow this link for details. www.socofm.com
My Final Thoughts
When I first read about the SoCo Farmer’s Market, I couldn’t understand why all the food bloggers were so excited about it. Although after experiencing the market myself, I learned to appreciate that this market is unique and is culturally thriving part of the community. Shopping at a Farmer’s Market promotes the “Local Foods Movement”, which is geared towards bringing sustainable practices to our daily lifestyles. By purchasing from local growers, we reduce our dependence imported food and support local businesses. Even if you are “not into sustainability”, locally grown food is fresher and tastes better. I highly recommend checking out the SoCo Farmer’s Market as they have a winning format that encourages farm to tables best practices. More importantly I guarantee you will go home with enough fresh ingredients to make yourself an amazingly fresh meal.
- SoCo Farmer’s Market Website: www.socofm.com
- SoCo Farmer’s Market Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/#!/socofm
- SoCo Farmer’s Market Twitter: www.twitter.com/socofm
Located 1 block northwest of 405 & Harbor Blvd at the SoCo Collection retail center.
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