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Neighborhood Farmers Markets

Explore the culinary secrets of your neighborhood farmers markets. – By Christy Caporale | Photos by Jody Tiogco

You drive by them and possibly even visit one on occasion, an eclectic cluster of colorful tents suitably located in just about every town covering the coastline of California. But have you ever stopped to chat with the vendors—each an expert in their own niche—to ask about what’s best this particular season or to get recipe tips?

Each farmers market has a unique feel, sense of community and offers insight into local, sustainable produce and artisan food products, and the people who produce them.

Farmers markets are spreading quickly across the country as the trend of buying locally expands into our lifestyles as a welcome phenomenon. Weekly markets are popping up all over the United States, with a huge portion in California—largely due to our ability to keep them well stocked year-round. The markets attract visitors and farmers from all walks of life, offering items with more diversity than you can imagine.

A Chef’s Perspective

As a modern culture, we have been slow to adopt the idea of open-air markets, but now more and more industry professionals are turning to these outlets for culinary creativity, knowledge and inspiration. To get an insight into the appeal of shopping at farmers markets, we asked a few local experts why they choose to buy local. For Ryan Adams, chef and owner of Three Seventy Common, the creative process for new dishes often begins with one or two items found at his local farmers market. “The salmon on roasted root vegetables, chard and niçoise butter was inspired by radishes and turnips I bought at the farmers market,” he says. “I get to try out new products much more easily through farmers markets because I am able to buy in small portions to sample and experiment with an ingredient.”

For most culinary professionals, respecting seasonal offerings and allowing the natural flavors of the ingredients to dominate a dish is the best way to find success in cooking. “Farmers markets allow you to become more in touch with the seasonality of the produce and inspired by a sense of place and time,” Ryan explains. “You always want to cook with the best ingredients, and the produce you get at your local farmers markets are as close to peak ripeness as you can get.”

Farmers markets not only sell exceptional produce, but many markets have a section dedicated to non-agricultural items; here you’ll find inspiration in everything from fresh seafood to artisan breads, and ethnic creations like handmade tamales and flat breads, savory spreads, dips and desserts.

Chef Craig Connole of K’ya began visiting farmers markets in the mid-’80s while living in Hawaii and does all his personal shopping at his local farmers market in Laguna Niguel. “Fresh organic produce is the main reason to go,” Craig says, “but the markets have other great organic products beyond produce. It’s a great place to find fresh breads, exotic nuts, unusual cheeses and other artisan and non-factory items.”

Simply visiting these markets and discovering new ingredients like squash blossoms or spotted purple sweet potato is enough to inspire anyone to create a culinary masterpiece. “I get incredibly inspired when I see all that produce laid out—all the colors, shapes and sizes,” Craig explains. “Just the vision gets me excited to cook good food!”

Laguna Beach farmers market

Nestled at the start of the canyon, this meticulously organized market attracts local artists as well as produce and food products. Offering a wide array of ethnic food, fresh seafood and an excellent variety of organic options, the market showcases everything in one location. Not to be missed items include Afghan flatbreads and homemade Italian delicacies, found in their non-agricultural section. Located in the Lumberyard parking lot next to city hall, the Laguna Beach farmers market takes place every Saturday from 8 a.m. until noon.

Laguna Hills Farmers Market

The best kept secret on the local farmers market circuit, this humble market started as a haven for mall walkers and stroller moms, and over the last 10 years has grown to offer an array of unique foods, including fresh apples driven weekly from Tehachapi, Keitt mangoes, grass-fed beef and stinging nettles. Located in the Laguna Hills Mall parking lot, this market takes place every Friday from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m.

Laguna Niguel Farmers Market

Mighty for its size, this small market offers an astounding amount of variety in a convenient, lively environment. Within its two rows of offerings, vendors can be found excitedly touting samples and sharing knowledge of their products and produce. And with just a handful of produce vendors, this market leaves plenty of room for non-agricultural items, including an eclectic array of prepared foods like tamales, empanadas, homemade Italian goods and fresh cheeses. The Laguna Niguel Farmers Market is located on the corner of La Paz and Pacific Park and takes place every Sunday from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m.

San Juan Capistrano Farmers Market

This small town market is perfect for an afternoon stroll on a Wednesday evening, offering all the market essentials, including organic produce, fresh seafood, fresh artisan breads and cut flowers. The warmth of the small town feel is accentuated by live music and the perfect mix of vendors. Located in the heart of San Juan Capistrano at Yorba Street and Camino Capistrano, it takes place on Wednesdays from 3 – 6 p.m. and until 7 p.m. from April through October.

Irvine Great Park Farmers Market

Although located a few miles outside Laguna Beach, the Great Park Farmers Market is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon with the family. In addition to the obvious offerings of a farmers market, this market has an incredible prepared food section with gourmet food trucks that rotate weekly, live music and a picnic area. Recently, an artisan section has been added featuring local arts and crafts. Located in Irvine off of Sand Canyon, the Great Park Farmers Market offers family-friendly hours of 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Sundays.

For a complete listing of local farmers markets, visit localharvest.org.

Dana Point Farmers Market

This market is compact with a few key produce stands and an array of local vendors touting mostly non-agricultural items, everything from teriyaki sauces, dips and rubs to handmade cakes and a pickle recipe passed down through generations. Located on Coast Highway in La Plaza Park near the clock tower, the Dana Point Farmers Market takes place Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. LBM

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