Saturday, April 22, 2006

Oops, I Did It Again

I returned to the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.
Here in this blog, I've often pretended to love farmers markets. Heck, up there in my "about me" I brag about walking to my local market twice a week, and that's just no longer true. (For one reason, it was murder on my left hip; for another, I joined a gym and get my gentle exercise that way now.)
But the thing is, how can you not go to the farmers market? That's where the good stuff is.
In my case, sometimes I just send Cranky on his bicycle, and he comes home with a couple of sacks of produce hanging from the handlebars. Other times — this only works in summer, sadly — we take an adventurous drive to West Marin and feast on the Pt. Reyes Station market. Most weeks now, I drive the half-mile to Marin Civic Center and brave the crowds for 30 minutes or so, chatting with farmers if they're not too busy, checking out the seasonal goodies, choosing favorite vendors.
But when I say "brave the crowds," I'm not kidding. It's crowded, and sometimes it seems like the crowds are only there to push toddlers in strollers and to sample free cheese cubes. Oh, and to drink coffee. (I've finally gotten used to the coffee bar at Whole Foods, but coffee vendors at a farmers market?)
Cranky and I went to the SFFPFM this morning, and again, it was love-hate. I loved buying crepinettes from the Fatted Calf (and since those fine purveyors of tasty meat products don't come to the Marin market... whaddya gonna do?). I hated being shoved by cell-phone-oblivious teenagers. I loved sneaking a glass of wine at 11 a.m. (which, come to think of it, isn't very farmers market-ish, so maybe I hated it). I hated having to maneuver around ridiculously long lines of patrons for coffee stands. I loved buying ultra-fresh cardoons, which I've never cooked before and will have fun trying out.
I had a really great time there, when I wasn't having a bad time.
I know there are other more genuine markets, like San Francisco's Civic Center market on Wednesdays and Sundays. But the produce there is droopier, the patrons are sometimes shove-ier, and I could swear some of the food is trucked in from industrial farms. Then there's the Alemany market, which I'm embarrassed to say I've never visited, but I hear it's the real thing.
Worst, I think, are the evening "downtown" markets in smaller towns, like my own. Nothing more than an excuse for some lousy jazz, carousing, and luring shoppers into restaurants. (Maybe it's me, but I just don't get buying scallions in the dark.)
I value farmers markets greatly and would hate to see them disappear. Heck, I even chose the place I'm currently living because of its proximity to a pretty good market.
I just don't like to see them devolve into self-absorbed-yuppie magnets. With pastries.
I think I understand that these markets need to sell more than dirt-caked vegetables, local honey, artisan cheeses and sparkling meats in order to stay in business. OK, so chapatis and chutneys. Rotisseried chickens. Fresh-cut flowers. Beautiful breads. And coffee! Fine.
I'm not going to get into the elite pricing of the SFFPFM. They accept food stamps, and if that's how you want to spend your food stamps, do it. I also realize that the SF market is a food emporium, with retail shops far beyond what you'd see at a "normal" farmers market. It is what it is.
I'm just not entirely sure I like what it is.
I'm so confused.
Tea at Tea and Cookies launched a great conversation the other day about farmers markets. Currently there are 25 comments; it's worth a visit.
Happy Earth Day.

21 comments:

Melissa said...

Dude, I NEED coffee at my market. Not only do I need a cuppa, but I like buying my Blue Bottle beans.

I'm with you on the crowding issues, oblivious people with mega-strollers, etc, but you forgot about those incredibly annoying photographer types who shove their cameras into everything. Oops, that last one's me.

p.s. my verification is "vwbox". I'll give you my address so that you can send the Bug. :-)

kudzu said...

I know, I know. How can you separate the food from the tood? I am tired of harping on the self-serving masses of Marin, but it is so true.

And it's true in the city (SF), as well -- or maybe more than.

Is Point Reyes the only genuine survivor?

Ah, me. What's a consumer to do?

sfmike said...

Are you a Gemini or something? I've never read so much love/hate/love/hate in one fairly short post. By the way, I agree completely with your confusion.

mrs d said...

The weekly outdoor version of our farmer's market opened today, though Chopper and I didn't attend. It wasn't so much the fact that this time of year the market consists of three stalls full of scraggly radishes, baked goods that cost the same as a full lunch at the pub, and some crazy dude playing sea shanties on a hurdy gurdy... nah, we just had y'know, actual affordable food to buy. At the grocery store.

(As I implied in Cranky's brand spankin' new blog, the one bright spot for our island's potential $4/gal gas this summer is that maybe, finally, we'll be moved to buy local produce because it's cheaper.)

Yeah, love/hate/love/hate. I hear ya.

Passionate Eater said...

Preach it Cookie Crumb, preach it! Everything you said about the Ferry Bldg Farmers Market and the Civic Center Farmers Market is right on the money. I actually used to live on Market Street, literally seconds away from the Civic Center Farmers Market. Thus, I agree wholeheartedly with your characterization of "droopier" produce and pushier consumers. Don't forget the Dianetics-loving Scientologists passing our their L. Ron Hubbard reading materials! Thank God they moved the Scientology headquarters away from that corner in the Tenderloin. However, they still frequent the Civic Center Farmers Market...

Kevin said...

Did Cranky start his blog? Where is it?

Greg said...

I just returned from the Marin FM. It's funny my wife and I had a similar love/hate farmers market conversation on the way there. Today was pretty cool. Like you I hate the yuppie vipe.Although they probably look at me and say he's one of them. Whad are ya gonna do?

Anonymous said...

If you can get up early enough, the Ferry Plaza market is great. You need to get there before 11am or so and you can scout around and pick up bargains and talk to the growers. After that, the tourists start arriving with zero intention of purchasing while they shove you to graze any available samples. And the vendors start to sell out of the best stuff.
Marin has become a street festival and they seem to let anyone in. If the success is to be judged by the crowds, they've done a great job, but you'll notice a lot of the old vendors have stopped coming (I can think of three great ones off the top of my head.)
-Steve

cookiecrumb said...

Melissa: No, not "VW." It stands for "viewbox." :-)
PE: Oh, they got some crazies there, yes indeed. But it's the best place to buy pickling cucumbers!
Kevin: He's taking baby steps (only two posts so far) at A Cunning Trap.
Steve: Yeah, I really oughta roll out of bed before nine. My own fault. Thanks for the nudge.

drbiggles said...

This is why I enjoy the Berkeley market (and it's painfully close). Even on Earth Day it was easy to stroll, hang out and gander there and there.
My hip isn't bothering me much yet, but I imagine it will. I was in this really cool car crash back in 1988 where my pelvis was fractured in 4 places, actually turned to powder. Couldn't move for 3 months, man TV and pain killers are great. Give me a few more years and we can complain about our hips while chewing through sausage some sunny April morning. Ahh, good times.
I got me a Berkshire pork roast. Yay for me!

Biggles

Tea said...

Hey, I bought cardoons at the FPFM this weekend too!(not sure what to do with them either). We really are going to meet one of these days:-)

Thanks for the mention, and I love hearing your take on the market. I haven't been to the Marin CC Market in a while, I fear I will be saddened by the changes. Have you ever been to the Sebastopol market? That's the one I'm holding out hope for. I'm hoping to check out some East Bay markets soon as well.

I have been to the Alemany market--once, about 3-4 years ago. It is the real thing, but--and I know I sound pickier than picky when I say this--it was almost too real. Definitely gritty. The prices were lower, but not much was organic and, well, yes, a bit droopy.

Can't win, I know. I'll just shut up and try to figure out what to do with my cardoons.

Dagny said...

I see Biggles beat me to mentioning the Berkeley FM. Then again I love anything I can walk to.

Erin S. said...

Just to quickly defend the music/coffee/prepared food aspects of the markets--as an Angeleno, I find the farmer's market as much about the community as it is about the fresh produce. Two of my favorite markets (Thurs nite South Pasadena and Sunday Santa Monica) have fewer stands than the gonzo Hollywood and Saturday Santa Monica markets, but they have great grassy areas to relax on, often live music (yes some of it sucks), and provide a chance for community members to get out of the neon-lit grocery stores and interact with their neighbors. If I can both pick up some fresh green garlic and fava beans from local farmers, and spread a blanket, eat a breakfast crepe while lazing in the sun, and interact with my community, there's no harm in that!

cookiecrumb said...

Biggles: Yowch! Actually, since I joined the gym and am getting fit on cardio machines, I may resume walking to the market IF IT EVER STOPS RAINING (oh sorry, was I shouting?).
Dagny: How close are you to it?
Tea: Well, I'm reading up on cardoons, and apparently you use only the tender inside ribs, and even then, you gotta pull the strings off either before or after you cook them. I think I'll braise mine.
Erin: That does sound dreamy. I just get mad when I can't even get close to the cheesemonger because there are so many day-trippers clustered around the sample tray. No, I ain't giving up.

Dagny said...

I am within 7 or so blocks of both the Thursday and the Saturday markets -- about the same distance I walk to go to bars. lol

Catherine said...

I still haven't made it to the SF market. To be honest, the San Rafael Sunday one is really overwelming for me - there's just too much. My market secret is a tiny Farmers market at Town Center in Corte Madera on Wednesdays. It's weird that its in that mall and its really only good for produce. There's a guy there who sells all organic produce that he drives up from Los Banos. It's always awesome and very inexpensive. In summer, he has the best tomatoes.

Tana said...

FYI, Anonymous above, "Steve," is Steve Sando, AKA "Rancho Gordo." We've had many conversations about the farmers markets up there. He says the Noe Valley one is supposed to be very good, but that the one at Alemany is not great. He suspects most vendors are not farmers at all, but are selling produce they acquired wholesale.

Ask questions. Ask them where their farms are, and how they grow things. "No spray" is another word for "sustainable," though some farmers say it's just semantics. I don't think so. "Conventional" is the biggest Orwellian word of all, in my book. A few decades of toxins on plants, versus hundreds of centuries of organic agriculture? No, thank ye.

BNA said...

Agreed -- the crowds (and often their attitude) at the Ferry Building are maddening. It's not just SF, as the greenmarkets here in NY are similarly plagued.

Let us know how the cardoons turn out.

cookiecrumb said...

First, Tana: Yes. Talk to them. I've learned insidery stuff from the actual farmers, and that's all I need to know. I don't care about organic certification. When they do it right, I get it. As for Alemany, thanks for the scoop. That lovely farmer from Purisima Greens in Half Moon Bay I told you about only sells at Alemany, BTW, and strictly for political reasons. Because he thinks it's a real people's market. Power to... eh, heh-heh. Anyway, yes, you find this out by talking to them.

OK, then. Ooh. Steve is Steve Sando? Thanks for dropping by, Steve! Gah! I'm still working on those Red Nightfalls. Mm. Missing you terribly in Marin. As is my neighbor Denise, who also knows you by name, so when your kid gets a little older, will you come back? xx

Catherine: I've tried that little market too. I got stuff there I've never seen at the bigger, more established markets, including (OMG) local avocados! Support your markets! They will reward you.

BNA: I always love reading about the NYC greenmarket saga... Good luck.

b'gina said...

"...coffee vendors at a farmers market?"

When I lived in Baltimore, we were up and out of the house by 6:30 A.M. for the Sunday Farmer's Market. The one place that sold coffee was also one of two bakery stands. The other, the very best, was run by a Frenchman who came to the States to bring some class to our bread eating. (my interpretation) Oh, the aroma of the freshly baked boules and croissants in the barely there morning light. Who could wonder that people wanted caffeine?

You know, after all the years I went to that market, what I remember are the breads, this place that had that really great Black Diamond Cheddar in the whole rounds, still in their wooden boxes, for about half its usual price, fresh pulled rocambole garlic, and a flower seller who make huge, gorgeous bouquets for $5-7. I always had great flowers, bread, cheese and ambrosial garlic!

I know I bought fruits and veggies, but those weren't my main reasons for getting up before the crack of dawn. I've never seen one as good here, except, possibly, the Alemany one in SF. I haven't been there since I was in school and went with my mother, but it's still there in my head, full of great stuff of all kinds.

cookiecrumb said...

Yeah, I know. I'm a freak: I don't drink coffee.
Your reminiscence does sound wonderful.