Saturday Exploration: Little Italy’s Farmers Market

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This post comes to you from Ms. Natalie, Oklahoma native… San Diego transplant… farmer’s market investigative journalist. 

Every Saturday morning, the farmer’s market in San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood is bustling with folks from all walks of life. Mothers scan the produce looking for the freshest veggies to cook for tonight’s dinner. Young couples hit up the food trucks for some authentic Thai food or acai bowls. Children laugh as they dance to the live Latin music. With San Diego’s consistent 70 degrees weather, it’s hard to resist spending the day roaming all the vendors this farmer’s market has to offer.

I went to Little Italy with a mission: to eat unique foods that go beyond the norm. Sure, olive oil is pretty typical, but what about avocado oil? And instead of flowers to decorate your house, what about nibbling on some edible flowers as a snack? I was timid to buy so many items, but luckily many of the vendors gave out free samples.

I grew up in Oklahoma where the farmer’s markets have slim pickings. Not a whole lot of fruits and veggies grow there very well. Contrarily, California seems to be able to grown anything and everything. People are able to be more adventurous with what they plant; therefore, Cali markets are bigger and more successful. They bring in vendors from all over the county and even the state. There is also sure to be some live music and several vendors that sell handmade jewelry and crafts.

Suzie’s Farm, a popular organic farm thirteen miles south of San Diego, sells many of their produce at local San Diego farmer’s markets including in Little Italy. They also provide produce for some local restaurants. Suzie’s Farm knows a thing or two about growing and selling crops in SoCal.

“We grow so many different varieties of our produce such as cucumbers and tomatoes, and we try to do multiple different colors of crops to make things really pretty,” said Yael Zaidman, a plug coordinator at Suzie’s Farm.

According to Suzie’s Farm’s website, they grow “over 100 varieties of seasonal vegetables, herbs, flowers, and fruits, year-round.” San Diego’s year-round fair weather makes it possible to extend the typical growing season as well as to experiment to grow a wider variety of produce in color, size, and flavor.

Many of the vendors in Little Italy, including Suzie’s Farm, had some interesting variations on beans. You would never see yellow or purple beans back in Oklahoma. Some people might say, “They’re called green beans for a reason: because they should be green.” However, I tried several samples of the different beans and really enjoyed their sweetness. I definitely plan on returning to buy some kale to see what kind of dinner concoction I can whip up with it in my kitchen.

Besides a bunch of bean, cucumber, and tomato options, there is also sea urchin. I repeat: SEA URCHIN. The sea urchin is sawed in half then filled with chopped mango slices, cucumber slices, coconut milk, and a number of spices. Surprisingly, it looked pretty delicious, and lots of people were standing in line to buy this underwater delicacy. That’s what’s so great about farmer’s markets. Everything is fresh and local, and you’re sure to eat things your taste buds have never tried before. Zaidman added what else she thinks are fantastic about farmer’s markets:

“Farmer’s markets are a great way to bring the face of the farmer to the public so people get a sense of connection of who is growing their food, which doesn’t happen at grocery stores very often,” Zaidman said.

It was so much fun browsing Little Italy’s farmer’s market, because it gave me a taste for what types of fresh foods San Diego has to offer. I’m excited to explore all the other farmer’s markets in the area. Maybe I’ll cook up the courage to try a sea urchin or two.