A Walk Through the Visalia Farmers' MarketDec 22, 2015 09:42PM ● By Brandi Barnett
Growing CommunityJanuary 2016
By Jordan Venema
Photos: Jacki Potorke
Maybe it’s common sense, but the things we share in common are the fundamental building blocks of our community. And ask yourself this: what’s a community without good food? Just take a stroll down Main Street and you’ll find it tied together by a string of fantastic restaurants and eateries. And should your stroll happen on a Thursday evening, you’d find the knot at the middle of it all: Visalia’s own farmers’ market.
The Visalia Farmers’ Market is like the artichoke heart of our community, the muscle moving all that fresh, local produce from Central Valley farms to our forks. In most cases, before our farmers’ fruits and veggies make their way to our bellies, they’ll move through the market first.
It might come as a surprise (or no surprise at all) that Visalia’s first farmers’ market began in 1979, long before “organic” and “farm to fork” were chic. In that sense, it’s a surprise our farmers’ market got such a head start on the trend, but then again, where else but in this agricultural mecca would it make sense?
Naomi Alberstein, the Visalia Farmers’ Market manager, explains that the market began as the Tulare County Farmers’ Market and had fewer than 10 vendors. Today, the market has more than 70.
“The biggest reason the farmers’ market was started was for local farmers to avoid having to pay costs involved in packaging and labeling,” explains Alberstein. “A lot of times, grocery stores order fruit and vegetables that are all the same size, and if farmers grow things that don’t match the perfect mold” – well, she concludes, those farmers are out of luck. So Tulare County farmers took their goods directly to the public.
“They cut out the middlemen that way,” says Alberstein, which is a better deal for both farmers and customers. The produce is fresher, it stays local, and the farmers make more per unit while customers usually save a little, she says.
Getting fresh, local produce is one thing and supporting local farmers is another, but then there’s also the experience of the market itself – the colors and scents, the electricity and movement.
“I see so much community interaction out there – people coming together, whether it’s sharing a recipe with each other, or complete strangers standing next to each other looking at produce together, or farmers educating customers,” says Alberstein, the market manager for three years.
The faithful who love their produce also love their market, and they attend weekly. “We’re open rain or shine,” says Alberstein. “You would think customers don’t come out in the rain, but they do.”
While you might not be able to get everything for your pantry from the markets, you can definitely make a dent. The Thursday and Saturday markets sell vegetables, meats, cheese, dairy and eggs – “things that people typically go to the grocery store for but have no idea where it was raised,” says Alberstein. But the market also sells ready-made meals, “snack items that are healthy and don’t have a lot of preservatives,” she continues. “We have a gal that makes granola and a guy that roasts coffee beans.”
Other than the food, the market usually offers live music, and education, too (you can even get a massage). The Community Corner is held once a month, where a local chef provides a food demonstration using a seasonal fruit or vegetable.
And if fruits and veggies aren’t your thing, you’ve still got options. “Crafters make papers and rugs and woodworks, and we’ve got hand-painted cards.” According to Alberstein, the market has 70 percent farmers with the remaining 30 percent reserved for handcrafted items. “A lot of people think it’s hard to get in our market, but it’s not. Really the main thing that keeps people back is if it’s not handmade or homegrown.”
While the Saturday market runs throughout the year, the Thursday market roughly coincides with Daylight Saving Time, from mid-March to September. Last year, the Visalia Farmers’ Markets opened a new market in Porterville on Tuesday mornings, which next year will run from mid-May through September.
Between the three markets, you can get most anything you need, though Alberstein says they sometimes have a couple needs. “We don’t have a nut grower, so I’m keeping my eyes open right now.” They could also use a baker, she adds, “so I do have a short list.” But ultimately, “there aren’t many farmers’ markets that carry as good a variety as we do, because we’re able to grow so much here in the valley.” •
Find them on Facebook and Instagram
Visalia Market • Saturdays, 8 – 11:30am • year round
Parking Lot on S. Mooney Boulevard & W. Caldwell Avenue, Visalia
Downtown Visalia Market • Thursday, 5 – 8pm • March-September
E. Main Street & N. Church Street, Visalia
Porterville Market • Tuesdays, 9am – noon • May-September
N. Jaye Street & W. Putnam Avenue, Porterville