Santa Cruz Farmers Market, Santa Cruz, Calif.

Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Santa Cruz Farmers Market

Some years ago, this market was embroiled in a spat with local merchants, who complained that it drew riff raff to the neighborhood. These days, street people and assorted countercultural types abound in downtown Santa Cruz, whether the farmers market is underway or not, as far as I could tell.

At the market itself, what I found when I arrived shortly before 2:30 was a growing but orderly crowd of reputable looking foodies, waiting patiently for the opening bell to ring so that they could start buying the fabulous array of produce on display from the region’s many bountiful farms.

– Mark Thompson

Corner of Lincoln and Cedar St.
Wednesdays, 2:30 to 6:30 p.m.

slide show

What I Bought

heirloom tomatoes and dry farmed early girl
heirloom tomatoes and dry-farmed Early Girls (right)
Price: $2-3/lb.

I arrived in Santa Cruz at the peak of the harvest of a local specialty – dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes. Enterprising farmers in the cool coastal plains and foothills around Santa Cruz, first popularized these tomatoes more than a decade ago. By now, they have an avid following in San Francisco Bay region farmers markets. The cognoscenti consider them the most intensely flavored tomatoes of all, even better than heirloom varieties, and get into fervent debates over whether Quetzal or Dirty Girl or some other farm has the best dry-farmed Early Girls.

Getting fussed over like that is quite a feat for a tomato that is a hybrid variety, with a nondescript round shape and colored ordinary red. The Early Girl is the sort of tomato that, in short, is usually disdained by the food cognoscenti as a “supermarket tomato” and passed over in favor of heirloom tomatoes, that are believed to be inherently better tasting.

The farmers who have perfected the technique of dry-farming Early Girls have proven to many that a hybrid can be the tastiest tomato of all, if grown properly.

An article in Field Notes, a newsletter published by the agroecology program at the University of California in Santa Cruz, explains how Early Girls are dry-farmed on an on-campus demonstration farm. “Dry farmed means the plants that produced your tomatoes have not been watered since May 2, when they were transplanted into the field. Their roots grew deeper to follow the moisture as the soil dried down. The idea behind dry farming is to produce a tomato with more concentrated flavor, and save water to boot.”

dry farmed early girl tomato

dry-farmed Early Girl (top)

The tried-and-true, high-yielding hybrid was chosen as best suited for the task, Field Notes went on to explain. “To dry farm tomatoes, we grow a variety that is capable of quick, deep root growth in our conditions—Early Girls. We plant them as deep as possible, stripping lower leaves off the stem where more roots will form below the surface. We get enough rain in the winter and spring to keep a relatively high level of moisture in the soil. The clay subsoil of the field holds moisture well, and the fog and (usually!) mild weather cooperate to limit the amount of water lost into the air. After planting, we cultivate the soil to create a dust mulch – a layer of dust at the surface to prevent evaporation. And then we watch and wait and look forward to the harvest!”

eggplant (top) and radicchio (below)
Price: $3/lb. for radicchio


pluots and plums
plums, a nectarine and a pluot
Price: $2/lb.

currant and crimson grapes
currant grapes (left) and crimson grapes
Price: $2.75/lb.