When it comes to farmers’ markets, there’s fresh… and then there’s Pescadero Grown!, where the bounty of produce is so colorful, so ripe, so juicy and flavorful, it feels like stepping into a movie. “It’s Hollywood fresh. When you buy it the same day it’s picked, that’s really fresh,” laughs Kerry Lobel, Executive Director of Puente.
The farmers’ market will be ready for its close-up when it opens this Thursday from 3-7 p.m. at the Pescadero Country Store, 251 Stage Road, and every Thursday thereafter until October 29. Puente is celebrating the market’s fifth anniversary with a rock n’ roll performance by Kevy Nova, who is known to bring hula-hoops for kids who dance to his electric guitar. The market’s most popular farmers will return, including Fly Girl Farm, Blue House Farm, Farmageddon, State Street Honey, Markegard Family Grass-Fed, and Left Coast Grassfed, with delectable food and beautiful flowers harvested within 20 miles of Stage Road.
“Right now you’ll see a lot of lettuce greens and root vegetables. Lots of strawberries. Strawberries are kicking right now – they’re awesome,” says Charlea Binford, Puente’s enthusiastic farmers’ market manager. In a few weeks, the dahlias and bouquet flowers will come. In a month, padrón peppers will appear. Mid-summer pleasures include melons, zucchinis, and cucumber. Not to mention tomatoes at their peak.
“Oh my god, dry farmed tomatoes from Fly Girl Farm – when you bite into them, it’s super sweet. People rave about them,” says Binford.
Every week the family-friendly market will include free bike repairs, and fun children’s activities, like a visit from the Half Moon Bay Library to make buttons. On Thursday, Puente will raffle off a Nexus tablet worth $250. There will be some special surprises, as well.
Pescadero Grown has never just been a place to buy good food. It is a crossroads, a public square that brings all parts of the South Coast community together – white and Latino, young and old. At the end of the summer, everyone celebrates Day of the Dead, a Mexican tradition that has ties to All Saints Day and harvest celebrations. Binford teaches ESL at Puente, and this year she will introduce a “language exchange” – a way for English- and Spanish-speaking adults to practice conversing in each other’s languages over a picnic table. Some of the vocabulary will probably revolve around fruits and vegetables, which will be perfect.
“My whole goal is to engage and energize the community and to get healthy food into people’s hands,” Binford says.
For years, Puente programs have connected parents and young people with healthy food and taught them how to cook with it. Pescadero Grown is an extension of those efforts. It exists in large part to support local farmers, and thus the local economy – while helping low-income shoppers, purchase local food at prices they can afford. Many of them are farm workers themselves.
Today, Puente is making affordable food a reality. Last year, 51 adults used Puente’s Pescadero Tokens programto double their purchasing power; shoppers walk in with a $10 bill and get $20 in tokens to spend at the market. “That’s 3 times the amount we ever had. And this year our goal is 75,” says Binford. “I think we’re going to have even more this year. It’s exciting!”
Puente also uses its wooden tokens to double shoppers’ money through WIC and CalFresh. Those programs require documentation, whereas Puente’s own Pescadero Tokens program does not. (Puente donors make the program possible).
Binford has made it her personal mission to spread word of mouth about the program, announcing it repeatedly in her ESL class and going so far last year as to perform a ‘skit’ about it at ESL graduation with the help of Puente staff and this year she passed out Blue House strawberries (three bites to one strawberry- they were so big) while signing kids’ parents up for the token program at Dia de los Ninos.
Binford also farms part-time. She is on close terms with many farm workers – connections she parlays into persuading them to come enjoy the farmers’ market and to sign up for discounts. “At the end of the day people are buying Charlea, and she’s very sell-able,” says Ben Ranz, a Puente colleague.
This year’s market will not just be crunchy, juicy, tangy and savory, but also fishy and sweet. Stuckeys Sustainable will be back from time to time throughout the season, according to Binford. The company buys fish and shellfish directly off the fishing boats at Pillar Point Harbor, which means their market menu will include scallops, tuna, salmon, rock cod and oysters.
One newcomer is launching her own side business at the farmers’ market: 25-year-old Ellie Schoelen, a 5thgrade schoolteacher at Pescadero Elementary, who will be selling homemade cupcakes and pastries under the name Cinderellie’s Sweet Treats.
Schoelen’s confectionary creations are a sensation among her young students, who earn “brownie points” (toward actual brownies) when they act well-behaved in public. As a newcomer to Pescadero, Schoelen joined the local PTA – and she always brings baked goods to the meetings. After sampling one of her decadent cupcakes, Puente Deputy Executive Director Rita Mancera suggested she sell them at the farmers’ market. (Last year’s pastry vendor had other commitments).
Schoelen takes her baking inspirations from recipes on Pinterest, but she adds her own twist and loves to experiment. “I just try new creations. I like stuffing my cupcakes now. I have made them with cookie dough; I’ve made them with Oreo truffles in the middle. I want to take mint Oreos and make a mint chocolate chip cupcake,” she says. “I also make banana bread and cinnamon rolls.”
Like other fans of Pescadero Grown, Schoelen knows it’s not just about good food. It’s a community junction – a place to run into her students, their parents, and to make new friends.
“I was nervous about being new to town, but now I’m jumping in,” she says. “I’m going to be a part of everything.”
Pescadero Grown opens this Thursday from 3-7 p.m. at the Pescadero Country Store, 251 Stage Road. For details, visit www.pescaderogrown.org.