I do wonder if a requirement for living in the Bay area is that you frequent a Farmers Market. They are everywhere and unlike Farmers Markets in the East Coast, the produce is significantly cheaper than what you get in the grocery store. Given the climate of Northern California, you can get an abundance of locally grown produce year round. Bananas have utterly disappeared from our diet, replace by a procession of cherries, strawberries, white nectarines and peaches. The only fruits and vegetables I don’t buy at the Farmers Market are onions.
As I am now quite dependent on Farmers Markets for sustenance, I want to provide a service for you, our dear reader. I will be rating the Farmers Markets of the Bay area. Here’s my criteria (scoring on a 1 – 5 with 5 being the highest):
Convenience: What are the hours and what days is it being held? How easy is it to get there and how easy is it to park?
Vibe: How’s the people watching? How nice are the vendors? What’s the layout? Is it too spread out? Too crowded?
Produce: How many vendors? How’s the variety? What’s the quality of the produce? Do they let you taste?
Prepared foods: How’s the prepared food? Is there a good variety? How long are the lines and how quickly do they move?
Flowers: How’s the variety of flowers and the condition of flowers? How cheap are the flowers?
For the outing, I will score the Old Oakland Farmers Market. Old Oakland already has a leg up because it is right outside out apartment.
Convenience – 4
Getting to Old Oakland is really easy, and not just because I live here. It is blocks away from BART and the parking is plentiful. The only downside is that the hours are 8:00 am to 2:00 pm. For us working folk, it means a quick Farmers Market sweep before going to work. Luckily, many vendors are open well before 8:00 am to take advantage of all of the old Asian ladies who come at the crack of dawn. For those working in the neighborhood, it does make a great lunch option.
Vibe – 4
Being two blocks away from Chinatown, the crowd is predominantly Asian. It’s a Chinese grandma and little Asian children crowd. The times I go there, the crowd is never overwhelming, although there are certain stands that are thronged with people. Most of the vendors are friendly and helpful, although many of the Asian ones get so much business there is little time for chitchat. The market is laid out between 11th and 9th street and Clay and Washington street and nice four blocks. The stands are evenly spaced with plenty of room for sitting. They have even put some tables and chairs in the middle of the square for peole having lunch.
Produce – 4
Another by-product about being two blocks away from Chinatown is the large number of Asian vendors. Many of the vegetables on display include types of bitter melon, lemongrass, Thai basil, bok choy, Chinese broccoli, and a variety of chilies. For fruit, the variety is fairly standard – stone fruits and berries – especially strawberries. Also given its proximity to Chinatown, the quality of the produce is uniformly high. In particular the strawberries have a sweetness you will never taste on the East Coast.
Prepared Foods – 3
There’s definitely a good variety here with a tendency to go towards the starchier side of things. I love the pastry stand staffed by two Frenchmen (or people from French speaking countries). All Star tamales are incredible. J picked up some amazing maple walnut sorbet of Scream sorbet. I have yet to try the Middle Eastern vendor, the roast chicken vendor, or the coffee cake person. My main complaint is that the prepared food people aren’t open before 8:00 am.
Flowers – 4
I really enjoy having fresh flowers in my house. If a producer can do it in a sustainable way, even better. As my floral tastes run more towards the wildflower sort than the hothouse sort, I adore flowers from Farmers Markets. There are two flower vendors at the Old Oakland Market. Both have a really good selection although if you come past 9:30 am, your selection will be limited to those supermarkety-looking mixed bunches. As you can tell I like bouquets that are more uniform. The flowers on the stall on 9th street will run you $4 for the wildflowerly ones. The stall in the center of the market has bouquets for $3. Both are similar levels of quality so you know which one I would choose. I’d also like to point out that there’s an orchid vendor as well. His plants are more market rate (what you would find in a store).
Total: 19 out of 25
A pretty solid Farmers Market. Love the Asian vendors and the overall quality but it would be nice if they either opened at 7:00 am or stayed past 5:00 pm.