Understanding where the food comes from

 

At the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco

LAST DAY IN SAN FRANCISCO — Ever seen a cranberry bean? I’ve never seen so much luscious produce in one place — heirloom tomatoes, white peaches, plums, big and tiny grapes, almonds and walnuts, various varieties of chili peppers…eggplants, potatoes…welcome to The Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market .

It’s a California Certfied Farmer’s Market that connects consumers with California producers (you have to be a farmer or a member of a farmer’s family to sell your produce here). The market is held on Tuesday’s and Saturdays. A group of school kids are running around trying to identify various varieties of apples (one grower tells me he has 60 kinds!) and beans.

There are samples everywhere — of the apples, of dried fruit, of nuts and delectable nut and chocolate concoctions (how about bittersweet chocolate almond brittle?) There are cooking demonstrations too and periodic tours to visit area farms. Inside, the Ferry Building Marketplace — built in 1898 — is a must see for foodies no matter what their age.

There’s Acme Bread, classic Italian Gelato and Cowgirl Creamery’s Cheese (ask for all the samples you want!) There’s even Far West Fungi devoted to mushrooms and Hog Island Oyster Company where we ate first-rate chowder and the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever had — four different cheeses! — overlooking San Francisco Bay. Here’s the place to buy California olive oil, Mexican tamales and salsas made locally, flowers and plants from Sonoma, even California farmed caviar and hand-made chocolates…Vietnamese soup, organic meat, Chinese tea… (www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com)

But to me the real reason to bring kids here is the chance to connect with farmers — who are glad to chat — and get a sense of how exactly those apples and beans and nuts get to their local market. And since the market is open all year, you can visit whenever you are in San Francisco and see decidedly different fruits and vegetables, says Dave Stockdale from the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture. In summer there may be up to 75 farmers and 30 vendors-on the day we visit, there are probably 30-40 selling everything from honey to the most luscious looking tomatoes I’ve ever seen (did you know there are over 100 varieties sold here in summer and over 200 varieties of stone fruits like plums and peaches?)

“We think it is important for everyone to understand where their food comes from and how it is grown,” Stockdale says. And that includes kids –so they can make better eating choices. They can learn that food in season tastes better because it is fresh and that it is more nutritious.

Kids who don’t like tomatoes, he observes, may never have tasted “ a tomato that is so sweet it tastes like candy!) He adds that the market’s surveys suggest that the food here isn’t more expensive—and at times even cheaper—than markets. But more than that, it’s the experience. You can taste a kind of pear you’ve never seen or a Quince and ask the farmer how it’s grown, and how you can cook it. “You see all the seasons in the market,” he explains. Come early on a Saturday morning and you might see local chefs shopping for their restaurants; visiting kids may see what they’ll see on menus later!

“You won’t see all of these things in one place,” says David Winsberg from Happy Quail Farms (www.happyquailfarms.com). “This is the real thing!”

Grape anyone?

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