Wednesday, September 18

An afternoon at a Californian farmers’ market

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IT was a hot Friday afternoon in what was almost a desert-like climate in California where we had a chance to visit a farmers’ market right in the city centre of San Jose.

Since winter was around the corner, most of the friendly vendors told us — some happily while some a little whimsically — the market would be closed from Nov 16, 2018 till May 2019!

So we tourists from Malaysia were really lucky to be there at that time to check out all the good food, organic vegetables and fruits, and various products, but we also felt a little sorry for the vendors, toughening it out in a typical Californian setting.

It’s only one street long, small to a lot of the locals, but worth visiting as we had a lot to see and bargain for. If we got hungry or thirsty, there were many outlets with fancy names flanking the road.

This market is considered by many as a cosy outdoor market held each Friday from 10am to 2pm along a charming block on San Pedro Street between Santa Clara and St John Streets. It is a good place to look for seasonal fruits and vegetables as well as goods like honey, eggs, or artisan cheese.

This farmers’ market is operated by the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association (PCFMA) in partnership with the San Jose Downtown Association, and with generous support from Kaiser Permanente and the City of San Jose.

PCFMA, set up in 1993, is a non-profit organisation operating multiple farmers’ markets throughout the Bay Area. Its mission is to empower local farmers and ranchers to be successful in their communities while providing them access to healthier food.

Visitors to the market could also visit two of the oldest buildings in San Jose. The Fallon House was built in 1855 by the 10th mayor of San Jose, Thomas Fallon.

It is a Victorian mansion with 15 rooms. Fallon himself was a frontierman (like Davy Crockett) in the John C Fremont expedition. However, due to time constraints during our afternoon tour, we had to give it a miss.

Vegetables at US$1 per pound (roughly RM8/kg)

Next, the Peralta Adobe was built in 1787 and is the oldest building in San Jose. I really like the history behind this adobe, the last remnant of the Pueblo of San Jose, one of three pueblos established by Spain.

It was built by Manuel González (an Apache Indian). He was one of the founders of the Pueblo de San Jose de Guadalupe, the first municipal government in California, established in 1777.

Purchased by the City of San Jose in 1966, the adobe building was restored, and the surrounding park completed in 1976. The Peralta Adobe is San Jose’s historic landmark.

 

San Pedro Square

The permanent San Pedro Square is home to San Pedro Square Market, a dining and night life destination in downtown San Jose, featuring a theatre and more than 20 restaurants and bars.

It’s good to do a short tour of the square, just to potter around, look at the interesting shops, and goods and may be even to have a snack.

You get a feel of what it is like to live in San Jose. You even get the feeling you are very much of a cool crowd because there are so many friendly people around, enjoying their downtime, enjoying beer and coffee. Most are there to be seen, standing around the tall old fashion tables crafted from old timber.

There are also fusion hot dogs to enjoy and even sushi for those who like Japanese food. Outside or patio dining is canine-friendly with so many dogs ‘hanging out’ in such a disciplined manner. Some are not even leashed.

Get a haircut, have a free beer.

Haircut and beer

There is a barber salon in the middle of San Pedro Square. Its calling card is “Get a Hair Cut and have a Free Beer”. My friends thought it was a very good idea and it should catch on in Sarawak where lots of people do enjoy a glass or two of beer.

The street is full of vendors who pitch tents and lay out tables. Many stand outside their tents along the street to greet shoppers while others are busy, preparing to sell their produce behind their tables.

Most of the vendors are quite used to tourists. Some even try to speak slowly and clearly to foreign visitors. Bargaining is even acceptable by some although, normally, we should not bargain as the prices are already fixed.

The organic vegetables and fruits are not at all pricey as you might expect. In fact, the persimmons were going for US$2 per pound which is a steal!

It’s so good to have free sampling of the fruits offered by the friendly vendors before you decide what to buy. This really helps you to make a good decision.

Fruits like end-of-the-season strawberries, peaches and lemons were available — with their pervading fragrant scents. People cannot buy them all, so the vendors are very generous with their samples. More often than not, many of their fresh fruits will perish quickly and have to be thrown away.

Of course, you cannot ask for a free bag of samples but you can stand by the bowls and sample whatever you like and no one will raise an eyebrow.

We walked away with a bag of persimmons and purple sweet potatoes. And I really liked the sign, “We sell what we produce”.

The vendors are only too happy to answer questions and show you their best fresh farm produce.

The flower and plant stalls were attractively decorated. The flowers were still fresh even though it was fairly late in the afternoon. It’s good to be able to learn about the flora of the country by looking at the myriads of plants on display.

A kettle corn tent.

Food stalls

We especially liked the food stalls — Indian and Thai. There were also food items like tacos, honey and smoked salmon to look at, not forgetting the variety of salmon stalls.

We got that familiar home-away-from-home feeling when we visited the Thai food stall serving Thai satay, Thai dessert drinks, and honey chicken. Besides, it was good to hear the different accents and sample the different ethnic products amidst different aromas, colours, and lots of smiles.

The Thai stall selling honey pork was pulling in the crowd. People were just tempted to buy. Generally, Californians are fairly adventurous and open-minded. Those coming to shop already knew what to expect and were happy to be with the crowd. There was also a bean pie stall which was fairly foreign to us.

According to some reviews, there is this certain guy who makes really good bean pies. One only has to take home a bean pie, microwave it and add ice cream on top to make a great snack after a hard week’s work.

Tibetan products on sale at the market.

Handicrafts

A lot of jewellery can be found in this market. Two or three stalls, run by women, offered handcrafted jewellery and it was really hard to decide which to choose. But we managed to be strict with ourselves and bought just the minimum even though we were so tempted to buy more.

One stall had Tibetan crafts and souvenirs. Their earrings, in particular, were creative and attractive.

There were other stalls selling handbags, aprons, candles, and soaps, to name a few.

A Mexican stall offered a selection of scarves, skirts, and pretty blouses. The vendor was also very friendly and spent time explaining her products like a good tour guide. She was so persuasive we might even visit Mexico next!

At one stall, wooden plates were sold and we wished we could have bought some to bring back to Malaysia. They were just so well crafted.

It’s good if you can speak Spanish. Just say, ‘Holla amiga’ and point. When the Mexican woman selling earrings saw me (I probably looked Mexican but I don’t speak Spanish) she smiled, shrugged her shoulders, and quietly told me she would give me US$2 less for the lovely item I picked up. I really felt good.

Art and craft items for sale as souvenirs.

Parking tickets

Interestingly, shoppers can even validate their parking tickets with the information desk — a really great help because parking is rather expensive in downtown San Jose. An hour can set a tourist back US$6 or more.

There were many children playing happily on the street. One mother left her child to enjoy the sun while she concentrated on choosing her vegetables. She seemed very familiar with the vendor and the child was happy by herself in her stroller.

Locals swig beer outside a downtown pub.

Every now and then, the vendor’s helper would tickle the baby which made other shoppers happy too. It was good to see such a nice display of communal connection.

Two little children danced to the music from one of the stalls. Their enthusiasm was so contagious that some shoppers even did a few steps with them. That would definitely give the mothers some happy memories.

I’m sure by word of mouth more mothers would come out to buy and even ‘play’ at the same time with their kids at this farmers’ market. I felt so inspired.

It was a great way to spend an afternoon and have a late lunch, thinking about those old days when frontiermen and women came here to seek their fortune.

Looking at all the vendors, I would say there is still quite a fortune to be made in California.