Shopping SLOcal.

a blog about what's happening with farmer's markets in SLO county

The Market Less Traveled October 26, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — kjbruce @ 1:13 am
Tags: , ,

Farmer's Market in Los Osos happens every Monday from 2:00 till 4:40


-Profile of Los Osos Farmer’s Market
-Reasons to shop at lower key markets
-Local ingredient challenge

Today I decided to take a trip to a market other than the one held in downtown SLO every Thursday night–they do exist. In fact, a new market just began to happen in San Miguel, and different markets happen almost every day of the week in SLO county. I figured the result from venturing outside the popularity of SLO’s market would be the same vendors, the same products in a different place. Wrong I was.

Los Osos puts on a market every Monday from 2:00 to 4:40 at the intersection of Santa Maria and 2nd Street, just a block away from the Bay and at the perfect time of day where the sun is still out, but beginning to have the golden glow that happens before sundown. Maybe it was the glow, but the market turned out to have much better fare than I thought.

While considerably less people were present than at SLO’s–about 20 booths were selling–the variety produce offered was just as great, and in fact a lot less overwhelming.

We always shop here [at the Los Osos market]” says local Ryan Cronin. “It’s like 5 blocks from our house and always has great stuff to offer.”

While less known than other markets, some people actually think the benefits of smaller markets outweigh those of bigger ones.

[Ryan and I] never go to the market in SLO,’ says Lety Flores, “it’s too crowded. Plus,” she says with a grin, pointing at a booth to our right, “they know me now and always ask how the stuff I bought last time was to eat.”

A block away from the market, the sun begins to set on Baywood Park

The purpose of a farmer’s market is to be able to buy local products and even have a conversation with the person who is selling it to you. When buying avocados to make guacamole, the vendor selling them took the time to talk to me, find out what I was making and even suggest the type of avocado I needed

These right here are ripe, and because they’re guacamole ready–a little overripe–they’re only $2 dollars a pound.” she said while selecting 4 good ones for me, totaling about $2

From personal experience buying avocados from the market in downtown SLO just last Thursday, the Los Osos market just seemed less hurried and cluttered. Which is a great thing for those who want to peruse and take their time, and even make friends with some vendors along the way.

While shopping around at the market I took it as a challenge to try to make something completely out of things purchased there–and for the total price of about $5 was able to make a big batch of guacamole. So check out the how-to video posted below, and take the challenge to make something out of local products. Let me know if anything works!


Quality Over Quantity: Part 2 October 25, 2010

–noun; an essential or distinctive characteristic, property, or attribute.

In my last post, I covered the idea of price as indicating where to go to get the best deal for produce. In this post, I am adding the second aspect of the decision: quality.
To determine not only whether local produce is more or less expensive than traditional supermarket fare, I bought the same type of produce from each venue and enlisted 10 people to perform a blind taste test to try to determine whether the price difference actually accounts for a taste variable. The produce tested by the volunteers were:


The tasters were not allowed to see the whole produce until after tasting, and the order that they were given in was random every time (Farmer’s first vs. Albertson’s first). After the tasting was completed participants were told where their preferences came from and asked to comment on anything that surprised them or did not surprise them, and why they chose the produce that they did.


One booth at Farmer's offers every type of tomato from Beefsteak to Cherry


Unanimous in favor of Farmer’s

To test tomatoes, I purchased the familiar red heirloom from a booth downtown and from Albertson’s. Tasters were all unanimous in that they thought that in overall taste and texture, tomatoes purchased at Farmer’s Market in downtown SLO won.
Will Starr said his favorite was obviously from Farmer’s because “it was really sweet. The one from the grocery store was tasteless.”
The variety of tomatoes (everything from cherry to beefsteak) for sale downtown rivals those available at the store, and according to our taste panel beat out the competition in taste and texture.

PEACHES -Unanimous in favor of Farmer’s 


This was the only other category that test tasters were unanimous in: just like in the tomato category, popular vote sided with peaches from Farmer’s Market.“The second one [from the grocery store] just didn’t have much flavor” Jamie Mather said after sampling both. Multiple participants remarked on the strange color of both of the peaches, although when it came down to  choosing which they would buy again if given the chance, every person went with the yellow peach from Farmer’s Market. “The second peach was older and had a grainy taste to it” Elliot Wenzel said, “The first one was much riper.”


The favored Albertson's Avocados

-5 people in favor of Albertson’s
-4 people in favor of Farmer’s
-1 person undecided

I have to say that this category surprised me the most out of all the classes of participation. While the area around SLO is famous for growing and distributing an excellent crop of avocados every year, five out of the ten people who tested a slice of each thought that the avocado from Albertson’s was better.


“It had a better texture and stronger flavor” said Lance Valenzuela.
Jamie Mather, whose parents own and operate a small avocado farm was partial the the avocado from Farmer’s Market, and was also shocked when I told him that general consensus was that Albertson’s avocados were better–he begged to differ. “People just don’t have refined avocado palettes!” he exclaimed with a laugh, “I thought the quality between the two was like was night and day.
This was the only category where a tester actually could not tell the difference between the two either. After tasting both, Elliot Wenzel looked up with a worried face “Uhhh…what do I say if I can’t tell a difference?” So the jury may still be out on the quality of avocados, but this was definitely the fruit that people got most excited to try.


Albertson's Basil, which multiple people actually commented did not smell like basil to them.



-7 people in favor of Farmer’s
-3 people in favor of Albertson’s

From a simple test of smell (and some who volunteered to chew it before I could tell them otherwise) participants were asked to gauge which batch of basil they would most like to eat. The result? Seven out of ten chose basil from Farmer’s over that from Albertson’s. However multiple people actually commented that both smelled a little strange . “You know, neither smelled like really basil-y to me” said Will Starr “it was just a little off or something.”


Broccoli from Farmer's Market on the left, Albertson's offering on the right


-8 people in favor of Farmer’s
-2 people in favor of Albertson’s

When given a little floret of raw broccoli, a few participants raised an eyebrow at me as if to say, “You expect me to eat this…raw?” But after eventually convincing them that it is fine to eat raw foods (shocking!) the results were in: seven out of ten chose Farmer’s Market broccoli. “The broccoli from Albertson’s tasted gummy” said Jennifer Berg “the other piece [from Farmer’s] was crisp.” And after seeing the actual two whole vegetables next to each other, Berg was shocked.
“That one [from Farmer’s] is huge!” she exclaimed. “The other one [from Albertson’s] looks like its kinda sick…” she trailed off.

In every test batch except the avocado, the results favored produce from Farmer’s Market vs. the same fare from Albertson’s. So use this information paired with the price chart a few posts below to plan your next shopping trip–let me know what you think according to your own experiences!


Photo Essay October 21, 2010

Filed under: farmer's market; san luis obispo' higuera street — kjbruce @ 9:05 am

Photos by Katie Bruce, Oct 19, 2010

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Photo Essay, posted with vodpod


Quality Over Quantity? A Price Comparison October 14, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — kjbruce @ 9:43 pm

Quantity :
–noun, plural; a particular or indefinite amount of anything.

Whenever I go grocery shopping, I find myself wondering how in the world the products I see on the shelf end up there. Where do they come from? Who grows them? How many peoples’ hands have grazed them?

By comparing the prices and places of origin of seven types produce at Albertson’s in San Luis Obispo to the same seven types of produce offered at a local farmer’s market, I was able to put some of these questions to rest.

(Note: every type of produce from the farmer’s market I went to to compare prices was grown at the furthest 210 miles from SLO county and at the closest 15 miles. Each product’s place of origin is not labeled because multiple booths were offering similar products for the same price).


Produce Price Comment/Place Grown
Ranged from $2 per lb to $1 per lb   
  Looked ripe and healthy, lots of booths selling
             $6 per 
  Able to choose whichever you want for a flat rate

Basil:    .
     $1 per bunch (about 8 stems)
 Very fresh, still had some dirt particles       
               $2 per lb
    Very fresh, still had some dirt particles
               $.50 per
  Multiple booths offered, very ripe and ready to eat  

Produce Price Comments/Place Grown
Broccoli: .
                  $1 per            .
       Offered by a few booths, same price        
               $1 for 3 ears
              Ripe and ready to eat               .

Tomatoes at Ralph's in SLO

Tomatoes at Ralph's in SLO

Tomatoes at Farmer's Market


Produce Price Comment/Place Grown
        $2.99 per lb
Fresh; darker color than Farmer’s; grown in Cali
         $.69 per lb   
 Very ripe; average weight of melon about 6 lbs; grown in USA  .

 $2.99 per bunch (about 8 stems)
Fresh; strong scent; grown in Compton CA
         $1.99 per lb       
        Not completely ripe; grown in USA                .
          $1.69 per
 Same variety (Haas) as Farmer's; grown in Cali

Produce Price Comments/Place Grown
Broccoli:  .
           $1.79 per lb        .
              A lb was 2 to 3 heads; grown in USA     .
            $.69 per
       Bigger/yellower than Farmer's; grown in USA


To Shop or Not to Shop October 13, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — kjbruce @ 10:24 pm
Tags: , ,

-Amount of Poly students who go to Farmer’s Market
-Student’s reasons for not shopping locally
-Reasons to start
-Some secret advice to scoring free produce and discounts

One of the new experiences that comes with moving away to college and starting life afresh is the fun that comes with guests. Guests–in the form of your your friends from home, people touring your school or your family–helps keep the monotony of life at arms length and adds a little spice to day to day events. Whenever people come to San Luis Obispo to see me I start getting excited about the things to do here: hiking Bishop’s Peak, going to the beach, shopping downtown–the options are endless.

But the one thing that I know people will never forget, and from personal  experience know they always ask to return for, is the Farmer’s Market held in downtown San Luis Obispo every Thursday. Everything from locally produced hummus to fresh watermelons are sold at the stands, and the exclamation I have gotten on more than one occasion is, “If I had this in [insert town here] I would be here every Thursday!” My answer usually being, “Trust me, I am.”

I might frequent the event, but do other students at Cal Poly take advantage of the opportunity that presents itself weekly?

“I try as hard as I can to make it to Farmer’s every Thursday,” says second year Animal Science major Tori DiCiccio. “I look forward to buying a fresh and delicious dinner there all day!”

Many students frequent the market and many get dinner at the booths set up by local restaurants, but it seems like people are neglecting the fact that the market offers more than Pizza Solo or McClintock’s.

When asked how often he attends Farmer’s, freshman Zach Antoyan quickly responds “Every week.” But when asked how often he buys fresh produce or local products, his answer comes slower and with a sideways back and forth head shake as if to remember, “Probably every other week, because when I do buy it it tends to go bad in the fridge and I don’t want to waste it.”

Zach also admits that living in the dorms gives him less motivation to buy his own food because he is on a meal plan. Fellow freshmen Bridget Wieczorek agrees, saying that she rarely even attends the weekly market.

So if freshmen are not buying local produce, are upperclassmen who are living in places with actual kitchens?

“I generally just don’t buy produce” says History major Jamie Mather, “I just don’t eat it.”

Surprisingly, Jamie is not alone. Jessica Jennett, second year Philosophy major, and Ryan Icing, third year Biomedical Engineering major, both separately admitted that laziness plays a big role in the reason they do not shop locally.

“I just don’t have time until the weekends which is when everybody goes out and gets food. I would love to make a meal with healthy ingredients but I just don’t have the time.” says Jessica

“I’m used to my mom just making me food!” says Jessica Jennett

“I tend to forget about it,” says Ryan, “it’s just laziness I guess.”

But if laziness is a factor, Farmer’s may be the place to go. Many of the farmers give out free samples of their fruit, and other local companies follow suit, enticing people to buy their products with free items. It’s like Costco without needing a membership card!

And here is a secret tip: if you hit up the booths as the farmers are closing shop, you might score a surprise treat. We were able to get a free bag of grapes as a booth was closing–just because we happened to talk to the farmer. Another gave us a great deal on some strawberries for no reason than we were there around 9:15.

These types of deals are resources that many students glance over, and visitors seem to remember. Downtown Thursday nights remain untapped by many students, but  it appears that students may not just be not shopping locally–many are just not shopping at all.


Vox Pops

Filed under: Uncategorized — kjbruce @ 8:47 pm

A little insight into what people like best at SLO’s Thursday Farmer’s Market.


A Local Lens Aimed at the Recession October 10, 2010

It seems like everyone has been waiting for the economy to bounce back to what it used to be, and a group of those caught in limbo are local farming businesses. Many, if not all, are waiting for someone to give the sign that everything is going to get better soon.  A recent Mustang Daily article discussed the idea that the recession has been over for a while, and claims that San Luis Obispo residents never really felt the effects. However some beg to differ.

Rich Newell has been selling produce at farmer’s markets for Fair Hills Farm around the region for four years now, and they say that the recession has definitely hit them hard.

“This is the slowest I’ve ever seen it,”says Rich as he gestures around the Arroyo Grande market on Saturday.


Strawberries, golden raspberries and apples from the Arroyo Grande Market


V. Farms, which also grows and sells fruits and vegetables, also claims to have been greatly affected by either the recession or the immediate aftermath, but admits that their success or failure rate in the market is based more on other factors as well.

“Sometimes there is a lot a fruit, other times there is none” says Billy who was selling what was left of their strawberry crop.

Occurrences like sudden heavy rainfall (which we experienced a few days ago) can destroy tender crops like strawberries and leave the market underwhelmed. While that may make it easier to sell products as less farmers will be attempting to fill the same niche, less product is available to be sold as well. This coupled with the fact that less people are coming out on average
to buy food locally hinder success rates.

Cortez Farms sells their produce all over Central and Southern California

Marco Cortez, of Cortez Farms in Santa Monica, admits that with a combination of these two effects, these past few months were actually the most difficult time for them to sell crops. The company, who travels to farmer’s markets all the way from San Francisco to Long Beach on a weekly basis, just had “the hardest summer since the recession hit.”

However, they had priorly never felt much of an effect.

“The [bad] state of the economy never really hit us,” Cortez says.

Cortez also admits that people are not flocking to buy local regularly. As much as the current hype concerning sustainability may lead people to believe otherwise, “people just don’t follow through with buying local.” Cortez also states that although many people talk about how great local ingredients are, when push comes to shove many choose a supermarket over a stand.

So with farmers having to worry about factors such as a slowing attendance at the markets, unexpected weather and people lacking motivation to shop locally along with the economy struggling as if is, the future seems bleak. However Cortez is optimistic.

“People still have to eat,” he says with a grin.