By Kaitlen Daigle
To help combat her husband’s allergies, Kim Winslow went in search of honey at her local farmers’ market. Since local honey contains local pollen, she said, ingesting it in small amount helps build up an immunity.
It’s just one of many reasons people cite for visiting local farmers’ markets. And their popularity appears to be growing.
“I like that they have a lot of fresh produce that they pick more recently than at the grocery store, and they usually have samples so you can try out the fruit, usually the fruit, to see if it’s sweet,” Winslow said.
Farmers’ markets are full of products that are unique to the region. Many people go to their local farmers’ market to get fresh produce straight from the farmer. Between 2006 and 2014, the number of farmers’ markets in United States grew 180 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“In the last couple years it has definitely picked up its popularity,” said Mitchell Winnick, RFB Family Farm farmer. “When we first started, it was kind-of out of the ordinary, you didn’t want to tell people you went to it.”
The largest number of farmers’ markets in the U.S. – 764 – are located in California, according to the USDA’s 2014 National Farmers Market Directory.
In the early 1990s, there were only half a dozen markets in the county. Now, there are about 70, said Mike Manchor, Rex Ranch farmer and manager of the Rancho Bernardo Farmers Market.
Suzie’s farm, the largest farm in San Diego at 140 acres, allows customers to pick their own produce, including strawberries, beets or other produce that is in season.
“I know at the grocery store there’s also organic stuff but it’s nice to find your own and pick the sizes and colors,” said Samantha Flores, a Suzie’s Farm customer.
The owners of the farm, Robin and Lucila, are really passionate and excited about being able to feed their community, Suzie’s Farm farmers’ marketer Kayla DeLucia said.
“Just getting to walk through the fields with so many people there coming to pick their own food is a really fun experience,” she said.
Customers can find Suzie’s Farm’s produce at local farmers’ markets and their farm stand. Suzie’s Farm also participates in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a subscription-based program that allows customers to receive farm-picked produce on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
There are 12 other farms that also participate in CSA in San Diego County, according to the San Diego Farm Bureau.
Farmers’ markets, farm stands and CSA are the most common ways to buy local.
“I absolutely love talking to so many different people and getting to promote the farm and talk about produce and where it comes from,” DeLucia said.
Most of the farms in San Diego County, however, are not as large as Suzie’s Farm. Sixty-five percent of San Diego County’s farmers operate on small family farms, harvesting on nine acres or less, according to the San Diego Farm Bureau.
RFB Family Farm provides local, raw honey to the community by selling at four different farmers’ markets. They partner with other small farms to sell produce and eggs, as well.
“With our farm, we have bees so our bees kind-of flow everywhere but if you count the acreage that we keep the bees on it’s about 10 acres,” Winnick said.
The top three organic crops in the San Diego area are avocados, Valencia oranges and lemons, according to the County of San Diego Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures.
“Mostly, I have 1,500 trees, about 1,200 of them are all avocado. Everything else is citrus or macadamia nut,” Manchor said.
Seventy percent of consumers nationwide said that their purchase decisions are affected by how food is grown and raised, according to a survey by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.
“I like that they have a lot of fresh produce that they pick more recently than at the grocery store and they usually have samples so you can try out the fruit, usually the fruit, to see if it’s sweet,” Winslow said.
“Just by being here and basically providing the vegetables here and actually eating it myself, I could just taste the difference in something I’d get at the store compared to something here at the farm because it is organic and it is fresh,” said Fe Hernandez, a Suzie’s Farm tour guide and farm stand worker.
The majority of organic produce grown in San Diego County is sold to wholesalers, who in turn sell it to markets across the U.S. Part of the produce is sold directly to local restaurants and natural food stores.
Farmers who market food directly to consumers have a greater chance of reporting positive sales than those who market through traditional channels, according to the 2007 and 2012 U.S. census data.
“A packing house would give you like 20 cents on the dollar for an item I could sell a lot more here,” Manchor said. “So my advice for farmers is to stay away from the packing houses. Farmers’ markets will give you the best price for your crops.”
Produce for wholesalers are harvested before they are ripe and stored for long periods of time before distribution. Non-local fruits and vegetables tend to be chosen for their yield, not for flavor, diversity or nutritional value.
“I think people are learning that they can get healthy, good food at a market,” Winnick said. “They can get it fresher. They can get what they are looking for, in season and local from the actual farmer.”