Shopping SLOcal.

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

$20 and Hungry Friends: How to Navigate Farmer’s Market November 16, 2010

Last Thursday, I ventured to the downtown San Luis Obispo’s Farmer’s Market with $20 in my pocket. My mission? To buy local ingredients to feature in dinner for some friends. Not only was the food a hit–I had enough to make some decadent dessert too.

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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!


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.


Local Produce Inspires New Tradition October 5, 2010

“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world,” a quote from Howard Zinn tells us. This quote helps to extend my experience at last weeks Farmer’s Market from short outing to a new tradition.

This last Thursday downtown SLO hosted the weekly Farmer’s Market with an outburst of people, most likely attempting to enjoy the coolness after a week of unprecedented heat as temperature records were set all over the county. With this information in mind, I decided to perform a small act: buying a few local products to celebrate a week full of soaring temperatures with no air conditioning in my apartment.

Everybody wants to make a change, and with the purchase of peaches, sunflowers and a rather large squash, a minuscule one change was made in at least a  few peoples’ lives.

With the purchase of some fresh peaches from Avila and Sons, I made a batch of peach iced tea. The recipe was delicious (for the day that it lasted in our fridge!) and was accented perfectly by the farm fresh peaches bought at the market.

A bouquet of fresh sunflowers brightens our apartment

A vase of sunflowers–that were quite popular throughout the market as many people were seen with a bouquet of yellow in their hands–now sits on our dinning room table. And even now that they slightly wilted they still add some color. Once again, a small thing brought a smile to multiple peoples’ faces as they wandered into our living room this weekend.

Now, the imaginative cooking came from the squash that yielded way more food than we could possibly eat. So faced with a massive pile of the golden center, I (perhaps not so) naturally turned to the idea of baking it into a cake of some sort.

“What started as an apartment joke of being able to turn squash guts into something sweet ended up being a delicious and nutritious use of the farmer’s local produce”

With a few changes to some recipes, some creative juices and a little extra butter and vanilla, a surprisingly yummy smell erupted from our oven. The result? A cake that was so good we could not even get a picture before half of it was gone.

I’ve included the recipe at the end of this post, and hope that trying it out (trust me, give a vegetable cake a chance!) will inspire you to venture down to a local market and pick up a new ingredient. I rarely cook with squash, but because a local farmer convinced me to try it out I have a new favorite recipe, and a new friend who keeps pestering us to make it again.

What was left of our experimental cake after about 5 minutes

This small and spontaneous act has inspired our apartment to attempt to start up a tradition of buying and cooking with a strange, interesting or just plain weird local ingredient per week, and I encourage you all to try something like it. Something as small as the act of buying something different gave us a few hours of fun and some new friends who will no doubt be stalking our apartment every Thursday night to see what else we have cooking. So check here for a listing near you and take the chance to do something small and make a difference in at least one person’s life, even if it just lasts for the time it takes to swallow a bite of squash cake.

Squash Cake Recipe

1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup stick butter — softened
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons 1% low-fat milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cup chopped cooked spaghetti squash

Preheat oven to 350F.
Coat an 8-inch round cake pan with cooking spray. Beat sugars, butter, ginger, and cinnamon at medium speed of a mixer until well blended. Stir in milk, vanilla, and egg; beat at low speed of mixer until well-blended.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl; stir with a whisk. Stir in sugar mixture and squash. Spoon into prepared cake pan, spreading evenly.
Bake at 350F for 35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean

Roughly chop a cup of almonds and place in a pan over low heat. Heat until slightly toasted. Meanwhile, melt a quarter cup of butter over low heat on the stove, adding about half a cup of brown sugar until completely dissolved. Add a teaspoon of vanilla and a splash of milk to thin out the topping.

Invert the cake onto a plate and sprinkle with the toasted nuts. Drizzle the topping over the nuts and the cake. Serve warm and enjoy!


Carbonless Footprints September 30, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — kjbruce @ 2:53 pm
Tags: , , ,

Lately it seems like a revolution has been happening in the ways of sustainability. Suddenly being “eco friendly” is all the rage: people tote reusable grocery bags, stop at water fountains to refill their Sigg water bottles and carry  all sorts of clothing apparel with words like “recycle!” and “reuse!”

“Many people are doing little or nothing to protect the environment and reduce their carbon footprint.”

–Harris Poll

But where is the depth behind all of this? Are people simply following trend because companies make it appear like its their first priority and celebrities make it seem like it is fashionable?

According to a 2009 Harris Poll:

Only small minorities of adults always or often:

  1. Purchase locally manufactured products (26%)
  2. Walk or ride a bicycle instead of driving or using public transport (15%)
  3. Carpool or use public transport (16%)
  4. Purchase organic products (17%)”

All four of these components can be incorporated into people’s lives. Starting with tonight! So ride a bike, carpool or walk (check off #2 and #3) to a local farmer’s market to buy local and/or organic products (check off #1), and start to actually act on what others may be saying.

This is a small step–but will leave (carbon free!) footprints for others to follow.