To Market, to Market in Sacramento

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SACRAMENTO, California – In a state known for celebrities, food is the real celebrity in the capital city, Sacramento – especially on Sunday mornings and despite the fact movie star governors aren’t unusual.

Your choices are limited only by what's in season. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Your choices are limited only by what’s in season. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

The reason is the Sacramento Certified Farmers’ Market, the official name of what most locals call the Sunday Farmers’ Market Under the Freeway. The casual name comes because all of the cantaloupe fondling and tomato pinching happens underneath an elevated portion of U.S. 80 at 8th and W Street. After awhile, you don’t even notice the rumble of the cars and trucks overhead.

It’s quite the spectacle. As many as 110 farmers, plus four bakeries and two fish sellers, artfully arrange tables of guaranteed-fresh California produce and try to entice some of the wandering thousands of shoppers to take their food home. The four-hour event (8 a.m. until noon) can attract 12,000 people.

Dan Best. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Farmers’ market coordinator Dan Best. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

“This is direct from the farm, direct from the field, with cash straight to the farmers’ pockets,” said market coordinator Dan Best, who declared he’d probably be a volunteer helper if his paying job with the Certified Farmers’ Markets of Sacramento County didn’t exist.

Some of America’s most fertile cropland is right here in California’s Central Valley, producing 230 crops that get shipped all over the country and internationally. (Trivia: California exports more sushi rice to Japan than Japan grows for itself.)

Imagine how much fresher and better the produce is at the Sunday Farmers’ Market Under the Freeway than at your local supermarket.

Produce often comes with good conversation. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Produce often comes with good conversation. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Those brilliantly orange carrots, those firm bell peppers and those tempting tomatoes probably spent no more than an hour or two in the beds of their growers’ pickup trucks before going on display. Know, too, that the farmers can bring delicate items to the market, ones never meant for packaging and shipment nationwide.

“Our purpose is saving the small-acreage farm. We put a face on people’s food,” Best said.

Not all broccoli is created equal. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Not all broccoli is created equal. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Indeed, talking with the farmers is one of the treats of visiting the market. Learn about Romanesco broccoli (that peculiar-looking vegetable was new to me), ask about the flavor of the honey or get coached about which avocado to buy.

You might think that the farmers’ market is strictly for locals, but think again. Even if you have a plane to catch the next day, you can load up a picnic basket with whatever fruits are in season, a loaf of fresh bread, a jar of honey, a bag of pistachios and other treasures and head for a picnic table at Old Sacramento, where Sacramento’s boom town days are recalled, or a bench in a city park. Some items make great gifts for the folks back home, too.

The Sunday Farmers’ Market Under the Freeway operates every Sunday of the year and is the largest in California. It has sister markets scattered around Sacramento County other days of the week. Some are open year-round, while others are seasonal.

Honey is a year-round good choice for a traveler's "souvenir" from the farmers' market. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Honey is a year-round good choice for a traveler’s “souvenir” from the farmers’ market. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Sacramento cultivates the nickname of America’s “Farm to Fork Capital,” a reputation that restaurants such as Mulvaney’s B&L, Grange, Blackbird Kitchen Beer Gallery, Kru and Ella Dining Room and Bar verify to visitors every day.

However, you can get even one step closer to the farm with a visit to the Sunday Farmers’ Market Under the Freeway.

Tips for a good farmers’ market experience in Sacramento

  • Bring cash in small denominations. Don’t expect farmers to take your American Express card.
  • Explore before you start buying. The farmers are competing, so you may find a better price for an item in the second place you look.
  • Trying to bargain for small items isn’t well received.
  • If the farmer isn’t too busy, enjoy some conversation about his farm and livelihood.
  • Keep track of your car keys. Market officials say keys are the No. 1 lost-and-found item. (Shoppers often find them in a produce bag, dropped there inadvertently after buying some of those beautiful veggies and fruits.)

Go to VisitSacramento.com for farmers’ market details, farm-to-fork suggestions and other ideas for exploring California’s capital city.

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