Last night I visited the shops at River Park to take in the spectacle that is the River Park Farmer’s Market. It is by far the strangest backdrop I’ve seen for a fresh farm market (is that Victoria’s Secret back there?), but it’s much more than a produce market. It’s a street fair, a carnival, and a celebration of food in the style that I am quickly becoming accustomed to in this town. There were balloon-tying clowns, crafts, Parker (the Fresno Grizzlies mascot), a huge inflatable slide for the kids, BBQ stands, and, oh yeah, loads of beautiful, fresh produce.
When I moved back to the valley last year I didn’t know much about the history of this place and the abundant agriculture that sustains it. But recently Nicole’s grandpa gave me my first history lesson about how the rail lines were laid out, and how that made Fresno such an important export station for the vast stretches of farmland that surround it. All I really knew was that the strawberries and peaches and other fruits and veggies I’ve been eating are some of the best I’ve ever had. So I didn’t know much, but I’m learning, and appreciating more and more every day what this area has to offer.
One of my favorite finds of the evening’s market was Benzler Farms and their organic grapes. The stand was manned by Greg and Sandi Jordan and their kids. It was only their second week at the market, but they said they’d be coming regularly for the rest of the season. They only have grapes, raisins, and raw almonds right now, but they were some of the best looking grapes I’ve seen, and they were delicious! Greg told me that as the season progresses there will be more, including figs and oranges. The Benzler Farms website also mentions Persimmons available from October through December.
Produce availability naturally depends on when the rain comes and temperatures change. Or, that’s what I suspected and what I confirmed last night while talking to the folks at the Ortiz Farms organic berry stand. He told me that with the late rains last year they had strawberries until December! I love this long California growing season!
Another really great find was Matthew’s Honey from Lindsay, CA. Inside the booth was Nick, who talked with me a while about the operation. I was impressed. Matthew’s is a completely local company, never taking their bees more than an hour and a half to do their work. I picked up a small jar of the wildflower sage honey and it’s delicious. They also offer the classic orange blossom variety, as well as a buckwheat and an avocado honey. You can find them online at Matthew’s Honey or just head to the River Park Farmer’s Market on a Tuesday evening and talk to Nick. He’ll even hook you up with some free recipe cards featuring this versatile and beneficial natural sweetener.
The Farmer’s Market at River Park is located at the River Park Shopping Center at the southeast corner of Blackstone and Nees Avenues. The market runs every Tuesday from 5 – 9pm through October 26.