Friday, October 28, 2005 | I’ve been going to farmers’ markets since I landed in San Diego County 21 years ago. The Saturday morning market in Vista was just about the only one, and it was certainly the biggest. In those days, there were no fancy umbrellas, no bread, no fish. What you got was ordinary vegetables and ordinary fruit but it was gloriously fresh and tasted wonderful. I loved coming home with my basket overflowing with great smelling stuff. Heirloom tomatoes were a twinkle in someone’s eye. So were all the miniature vegetables. People came for their lettuce, broccoli, carrots and persimmons. And the price was right. My $20 bill bought my produce for a week.

What I used to buy for $20 now usually costs about $50. Granted, I buy berries and heirloom tomatoes, but I also buy lettuce, carrots and corn. And even though Chino Farm is not a farmers’ market, it is, in fact, a farm stand. Chino’s does not even post prices for its liquid gold produce. Fifty dollars won’t go far there. As a result, “foodies” have the makings for the latest recipe, but the everyday shopper can’t afford prices that are higher than supermarket specials. To me, this defeats the purpose of the markets.

Although I don’t believe farmers should give their produce away, I have always seen the farmers’ markets as a place where quality could be had for a reasonable price. Our children could eat something other than iceberg lettuce, and they would learn what a vine-ripened tomato tastes like. When going to the farmers’ market becomes a special treat, we’ve defeated the purpose of the markets. Here is the one opportunity to taste a truly ripe peach, the kind that drips juice down your chin like the O’Henrys do when they are in season. It’s a chance to see the tops on carrots and maybe even a little bit of dirt from the field where they were harvested. Buying farmers’ market produce puts healthy, tasty food in our mouths and begins habits that last a lifetime. Let’s not allow the markets to turn into “foodie” specialty stores. Farmers’ markets belong to everyone.

Pamela J. Wischkaemper is a local food consultant and is the founder of San Diego Gastronomically Correct, a group that goes on the road twice a year to promote the San Diego restaurant industry. The only criterion for membership is having cooked at the James Beard House in New York. Nineteen chefs in San Diego are members.

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