Strolling into the Civic Center farmers’ market in San Rafael, one’s senses are overwhelmed by aromas, colors, glorious tastes of late harvest grapes and persimmons and the tender touch of handspun yarns all set to a rocking African beat.
The scent of baking Belgian waffles melds with the tang of freshly harvested oranges. The heady scent of peppers meets the earthy nose of mushrooms foraged from the woods. The palette of colors is as diverse as a painting by Monet, echoing the variety of nature with its greens, yellows, reds and oranges, not to mention the purple hues of eggplants and flowers, the pinks of salmon and radishes, the blue of cornflowers and crab. All the shopping needs for the Thanksgiving table can be found here, from soup to nuts, breads for stuffing, pumpkins and onions to pastured eggs. Everything is here to make the senses sing and the vendors can’t wait to give tastes of their wares, so convinced are they that the best is waiting at their booth.
But I don’t shop at the farmers’ market just for the festival my senses experience each time I enter. I go to the Civic Center on Sundays and Thursdays because I can’t get enough of the connection I feel to the earth by buying my food from the people who grow it. The rhythm of the seasons is abundantly clear and I wait with rapt anticipation for the first Satsuma in November, vine-ripened tomato in July, sweet Bing cherries in May or pencil-thin asparagus in March. Moreover, shopping at the market supports the culture and traditions of local, sustainable and diversified agriculture. I don’t mind giving my money to the farmers and producers because they are the actual source of my food, not a middleman or large corporation.
Over the years, many of these vendors have become my friends. I love our weekly exchanges about the weather at their farm or how the newest grandbaby is doing. So it is taken personally when any loss is suffered. Last winter during the big freeze, my friends the citrus farmers lost their entire crop of oranges. I knew they had taken a big financial hit. When I recently found out that the egg merchant’s mother died, I cried and expressed my condolences. Because we need them and the part they play in keeping the land in agriculture (not paved over into another subdivision or strip mall), it only makes me want to support them more. It’s hard work to get the crops to market—countless hours are spent planting, picking, packing and driving the often long haul to get the produce to the buyer. Each bite of that most perfect pomegranate brings forth appreciation for all the sweat and muscle that went into growing it.
The farmers market at the Civic Center cultivates a wonderful sense of community by providing an incredibly diverse group of vendors and musicians. On any given day, there are at least two musical groups serenading shoppers and a whole host of craftspeople displaying jewelry, paintings, photographs, clothing and even handmade whistles. Talented bakers share the aisles with a plethora of prepared food sellers making the market a great place for breakfast or lunch while gathering food for the coming week. Cheese makers bring their wares and provide creamy tastes alongside olive growers with oil and olives and nut growers with almonds, pistachios, fresh-roasted peanuts and walnuts. We are blessed to live in a land of such abundance and be able to buy directly from the people who have raised this precious bounty.
Each one of us has a responsibility to be caretakers of our planet. There is no better place to celebrate the gifts of Mother Earth and to be good stewards than to shop at a local farmers market.
There are farmers markets every day of the week in many towns around the Bay Area. Some of the bigger year-round markets are:
Derby Street and MLK Way
Tuesdays 10am-2pm and Saturdays 8am-2pm
Ferry Building in San Francisco
Wednesdays and Saturdays 9am-1pm
Civic Center Farmers MarketSundays and Thursdays 9am-1pm
Rain or shine