Slo County Farmers’ Markets San Luis Obispo County Mon, 19 Sep 2016 21:17:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Going nuts over fruit year-round Mon, 19 Sep 2016 21:17:40 +0000 img_0089Sometimes it’s really hard to say goodbye to the fruits you love. Alas, seasons change, and to every fruit there is a season. But, thanks to Avila & Sons, summer favorites, like peaches and nectarines, have an extended lifespan.

“When we don’t have fresh stuff, we have dried stuff,” said Cynthia Zacharias (pictured above, right), who was recently tending to the Avila & Sons booth at a farmers’ market in Arroyo Grande.

Dried fruit is made by taking most of the original water out of fruit. That practice, which dates back thousands of years, allows fruits to retain most of their nutritional value while extending their shelf life.  While some worry about the sugar content of dried fruit, it’s actually a healthy option, with lots of antioxidants and fiber, according to this Time magazine piece.

img_0082Avila & Sons offers a bevy of dried fruit, including apples, apricots, nectarines, peaches and pears. (Prunes and black figs are most popular among the dried fruits, Zacharias said.)

The fourth generation farmers from Hanford also offer a variety of nuts, including pistachios, raw walnuts, roasted corn nuts and garlic roasted peanuts. And if that wasn’t enough, they also offer an array of nut butters, including almond butter, pecan butter and walnut butter.

As the holidays near, they will offer nice packages of nut gift boxes. Last year, those gift boxes started out around $19.


Check out Avila & Sons Farms at farmers’ markets in Arroyo Grande (Wednesday, 8:30-11 a.m., Smart & Final), San Luis Obispo (Thursdays, 6:10-9 p.m., downtown) and Morro Bay (Thursdays, 2:30-5 p.m., Spencer’s Fresh Market). 





From the plant to the jar — behind the popular Mama’s Preserves with Arroyo Grande farmer Lori Heal Wed, 14 Sep 2016 17:12:50 +0000 It’s only September, but Lori Heal is already thinking of a new jam she can create for Christmas.

“I love blending and mixing,” she said. “I keep adding, and I keep mixing.”

She has farmed berries in Arroyo Grande for three decades. And as her operation grew, so too did the amount of berries she produced.

“I started to have extra fruit, and I thought, ‘Hmmm — what could I do with this?'”

Mama’s Preserves currently offers 22 varieties of jams, all made from the crops grown at 2 Peas in a Pod — the farm Heal operates with her husband and two of her sons. Heal sells the preserves at farmers’ markets locally and as far away as Hollywood and Santa Monica. While customers might use the preserves on toast or in yogurt, chefs have used them in glazes for meat.

Some of the flavor ideas have come from customers.

“They get such a kick out of it when I have a new flavor, and it was their idea,” Heal said.

Farming has been a part of Heal’s family at least since her great-grandfather, she said. The family originally farmed in Cayucos, but eventually the farm moved to Arroyo Grande, where Heal’s father operates a 720-acre cattle ranch. Most of 2 Peas in a Pod is located on a roughly 20-acre patch there, though there is also a small berry forest at the Heal house nearby.

The farm includes berries, baby corn, brussels sprouts and the latest edition, hops.

Summer is a time for picking berries, while the fall and winter entail pruning plants by hand. Meanwhile, Heal spends considerable time picking, making jams and working farmers’ markets. While she loves farming, her work can entail long hours — for the Santa Monica market, she has to leave as early as 3 a.m.

“Farming for us is 24/7,” Heal said.


Find Heal’s berries, preserves and more at the downtown San Luis Obispo farmers’ market, Thursdays, beginning at 6:10 p.m.



Let’s hear it for watermelons — using sound to pick a winner Wed, 07 Sep 2016 22:15:08 +0000 Standing behind a table crowded with watermelons, John Lahargou beats on several of the rinds as if they were bongos. After tapping one with a slightly higher-pitched sound — offering less bass than the other melons — he stops, nods and concludes, “That’s on the greener side.”

If you search the Internet for advice on picking the best watermelon, you’ll find plenty of tips, including (but not limited to): sniff it, shake it, squeeze it, lift it, turn it. But Lahargou is drawn to the beat of his melons.

“Every day I’m picking watermelons, and I do it by sound,” says Lahargou (pictured above, demonstrating the technique).

Before each melon is picked, he says, he drums on it — not with a fist or a knuckle, but with the underside of his extended fingers. (Again, think bongo player.)

melon2“You wanna hear what’s inside,” he explains. “The vibration.”

During a recent farmers’ market in Arroyo Grande, multiple people tapped on his watermelons — a regular occurrence at his booth. One amateur melon tapper said the sound of a good melon compares to the sound of tapping a basketball.

That’s probably not a bad approach, Lahargou says later, though he’s not ready to say it’s the end-all technique.

“I’ve opened thousands of these, trying to figure it out,” he says.

While using sound to choose the right melon is not a perfect science, Lahargou is uniquely qualified to judge a melon by its cover.

Lahargou has plenty of watermelons this time of year.

Lahargou has plenty of watermelons this time of year.

“The duller the sound,” he tells one customer, “the riper they are.”

Lahargou’s watermelons are not only ripe — they offer lots of flavor. That’s because he doesn’t irrigate them, he explains.

“I never water ’em,” he says. “All natural.”

At the Arroyo Grande farmers’ market, several passersby take samples. A few stop. One woman, after choosing the watermelon of her liking, tucks it under an arm and asks, “What if it’s not good?”

“I dunno,” Lahargou says, unshaken by the challenge. Then, with a dry sense of humor, he adds: “Throw it at your neighbor’s house.”



Find Lahargou’s watermelons at the farmers’ markets in Arryo Grande (Wednesdays, 8:30-11 a.m., Smart & Final lot), Morro Bay (Thursdays, 2:30-5 p.m., Spencer’s Fresh Market lot) and San Luis Obispo (Saturdays, 8-10:45 a.m., World Market lot).




With Autumn approaching, you’ll fall for butternut apple soup Tue, 30 Aug 2016 22:21:52 +0000 While John Chapman is perhaps the best known ambassador of the apple — a folk hero with an eye for orchards — the fruits that Johnny “Appleseed” brought to the frontier at that time weren’t usually grown for eating or baking pies. In fact, they were called “spitters,” because that was usually what someone would do if they ate one of Johnny’s apples.

applesJohnny Appleseed’s apples typically were used to make hard cider – or booze, which might give his folk status a bit of an edge.

While alcoholic cider has made a big comeback in recent years, there are, of course, many other uses for the apple. (And if you need a list, Food Network lays out 50 examples here.) But Stephanie Nye (formerly Burchiel), a farmers’ market favorite, has a unique soup that uses apples as an ingredient. With September now upon us, we figure this is a good time to dig into fall recipes, and butternut apple soup is the first mentioned in Nye’s book, Central Coast Farmers Market Soups. While fall is the best time for a variety of apples, Nye (pictured above, far right) recommends Granny Smith, Fuji and Gala apples for this one, along with a choice of squash.

“Each year, I see new varieties of hard shell squashes in the markets, each a little different in flavor and texture but all with the ability to create an aroma in the oven that announces the fall harvest is upon us,” she writes.

Farmers’ market squashes — be they butternut, pumpkins or kabochas — are best, she writes, because they are so fresh. Here’s the recipe:


1 large butternut squash (or other large, winter squash), roasted and skinned.

1 yellow onion, chopped

3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole

1 each Granny Smith apple and Fuji or Gala apple

1 cup unfiltered apple juice of apple cider

1/3 cup Arborio rice

1 cup celery, chopped

1 tsp. each, nutmeg and cinnamon, freshly ground

2 tablespoons ginger, fresh, peeled and chopped

1 cup of walnuts, roasted lightly and pureed into a cream

7-8 cups of autmn stock

1/4 cups of grape seed oil

sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Begin the soup, in a large heavy-bottomed stockpot, she recommends, by heating grape seed oil on medium high heat, then add onions and saute until golden brown.

Find Nye’s soups at the Morro Bay farmers’ market (in the Spencer’s parking lot), Thursdays, from 2:30-5 p.m.



Juicing on the Mend Mon, 01 Aug 2016 19:18:36 +0000 Fifteen minutes before the farmers’ market begins in downtown San Luis Obispo, passersby are already asking Julia Gomez for samples — and she’s not even finished setting up her booth. It shouldn’t be a surprise, though: Her containers full of colorful juices, stacked on ice, represent a refreshing treat on a warm day.

But they’re not just refreshing — these raw, cold-pressed juices provide the body with instant nutrition, the juices packed with fruits and vegetables.

Juices2Her business, Julia’s Juices, began — you might say — by pure accident. Gomez’s husband, Javier Magana, was sidelined from his job as a restaurant cook after a car collision. As he was mending, he began planting a garden containing a variety of produce, including kale, celery, beets, tomatoes, cilantro and blueberries. To help her injured husband mend heal, Gomez started juicing the items from the garden. The idea worked, and soon the couple started both Julia’s Juices and Red Barn Farms.

Using local fruits and vegetables, Gomez, a former Tribune press worker, constantly tries different combinations.  Her juicing process — crushing the fruits and veggies instead of using blades or graters, then pressing the crushed product — ensures that the nutrients remain in the juices. To ensure the juices are fresh, the produce is picked the day before juicing, which happens the day of each farmers’ market.

Some of Julia’s favorites include the 3 Berry Kale smoothie, Tropic Kale, Gingy Beet and Veggie Blast. Most of her juices and smoothies focus on kale, which she calls a “superfood.” Known for its health benefits, kale was recently featured in a healthy eating contest.


Find Julia’s Juices at farmers’ markets in Arroyo Grande (Wednesday, Smart & Final lot, and Saturday, the Village), San Luis Obispo (Thursday, downtown, and Saturday, World Market lot) and Morro Bay (Thursday, Spencer’s Fresh Market lot).








What Is Cooking From Scratch? Fri, 22 Jul 2016 19:00:44 +0000 Good Tides Organic Bistro is so serious about making food from scratch, even their ketchup is made from scratch.

Now that’s some serious scratch.

But what does “cooking from scratch” even mean?

By most accounts, the term originated with sporting events. Some say it dates to competitive races in the 1800s, referring to a starting point, which was scratched into the ground. In cooking, making things from scratch suggests things are made with only the basic ingredients and nothing that has been prepared ahead or processed. So instead of using a boxed mixture, someone baking cookies will start from the beginning with flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda and baking powder.

There are many benefits to making food from scratch. For one thing, the food is healthier because it doesn’t include chemicals, preservatives, additives or other unknown ingredients. By using seasonal fruits and vegetables, chefs often use produce from local farmers’ markets. And many say food from scratch simply tastes better with more basic ingredients.

Good Tides 4Because Good Tides chef Alyx Gille knows every ingredient in her food, she can help customers with allergies know what dishes to avoid.

(Are you motivated yet? Check out some “from scratch” recipes here.)

Adding to the knowledge, all of the produce in Good Tides food is locally grown and organic.  Meanwhile, eggs come from Cal Poly, grass-fed beef comes from Hearst Ranch and chicken comes from Mary’s Free-Range Organic Chicken.

At a recent farmers’ market in Morro Bay, assistant Allison Harris (pictured above) sold a variety of goodies made from scratch, including brownies, oatmeal coconut cookies, fresh peach muffins, and peach tarts with blackberries.

You can find Good Tides at farmers markets in Arryo Grande (Wednesdays, 8:30-11 a.m., Smart & Final lot), Morro Bay (Thursdays, 2:30-5 p.m., Spencer’s Fresh Market lot) and San Luis Obispo (Saturdays, 8-10:45 a.m., World Market lot).

Try olive oil to enhance any food Tue, 19 Jul 2016 19:06:07 +0000 Olive oil can be used on just about anything you eat, says Mari Lenci, of Oliveto Ranch in Templeton.

“You can cook with it. You can dip it . . . Anything you make with butter, you can replace with olive oil,” she said.

Olive bottlesOlive oil is the oil obtained from the fruit of olive trees. Offering a fruity-bitter taste, olive oil enhances salads, sandwiches, pasta, rice and more. And, Lenci says, it’s healthier than butter.

She knows a thing or two about olive oil: Oliveto was actually the name of the olive orchard her great-grandfather farmed in Tuscany. The orchard was still operating when Lenci grew up there.

A Californian the past 30 years, Lenci once worked in sales and marketing for a major airline company, and she’s a culinary chef. She planted olive trees in 2000, and she began selling olive oil eight years ago.

The Oliveto  Ranch has 13 varieties of Tuscan olives, plus California Mission olives, Lenci said. When growing, Oliveto follows organic rules, she added, and the olives are all hand picked.  Oliveto olive oil is considered “extra virgin,” which means it is produced by a simple pressing of the olives (no chemicals used), it meets certain laboratory tests on things like acidity, and it doesn’t have negative tastes that professionals would consider a defect.

Consumers can tell if olive oil is fresh, Lenci said, if it’s a little bitter. But there’s also variety in flavors.

“What people don’t know is, not all olive oil is alike,” she said.


Find Oliveto olive oil at farmers’ markets in Morro Bay (Thursday, 2:30-5 p.m., Spencers Fresh Market lot) and San Luis Obispo (Thursday, 6:10-9 p.m., downtown).


Memories of summer Tue, 05 Jul 2016 22:15:43 +0000 Summer began with a blaze of heat in San Luis Obispo County this year, with parts of the county seeing temperatures warm up to 100 degrees or more. Yet, with school out and the vacation season in full swing, there was still plenty of activity in San Luis Obispo County.

SurferWith summer on everyone’s minds, we asked some of the vendors at the Arroyo Grande farmers’ market about their favorite summer memories — and spent a little time capturing some of the summer fun.

Remember to check out the expanded growers section of the downtown farmers’ market in San Luis Obispo on Thursday nights, from 6:10-9 p.m. Other farmers’ markets include:

  • Wednesday, Arroyo Grande (Smart & Final lot), 8:30-11 a.m.
  • Thursday, Morro Bay (Spencer’s Fresh Market lot), 2:30-5 p.m.
  • Saturday, San Luis Obispo (World Market lot), 8:10-10:45 a.m.
  • Saturday, Arroyo Grande (the Village, Olohan Alley), 12-2:30 p.m.





Now They’re Making Real Dough Tue, 05 Jul 2016 18:01:57 +0000 SignGlenna and Mark Evans have come a long way to bake bread for you.

The couple were living in New England when they decided to embark on “encore careers” and move across the country.  But it took decades of life experience to get here.

Glenna, who grew up on a farm in Southern Illinois, had studied photography at DePaul University in Chicago before embarking on a career as a hairstylist on Michigan Avenue, the heart of Chicago’s “Magnificent Mile.” (She continued to create great photos, which have been exhibited in numerous venues.) Mark, who has architecture degrees from the University of Illinois, had a 34-year career in software and product management. But while working their other careers, they started getting serious about baking, which led to baking classes, which led to a major life change.

With a spreadsheet in hand, they set out to determine which area of the country would be a good fit for them — and their new business plan — and they decided on San Luis Obispo.

In 2012, they opened Baking Bread Bakery in the restaurant of the County Government Center on Higuera Street. They have also branched out to farmers’ markets.

Breaking Bread offers a variety of muffins, including pineapple coconut, blueberry cornmeal and peanut butter chocolate chip. Artisan breads include French baguettes, six grain and cinnamon raisin. Looking for something even more different? How about a bag of apple walnut granola?

PlateAfter living in Chicago and the East Coast, Glenna said during a recent farmers’ market in Arroyo Grande, she has returned to her farming roots.

“That’s what got me started with all of the cooking,” she said.

Her hometown didn’t have farmers’ markets, she said. And while Chicago did, they were limited by those chilly Midwestern winters.

“You only had from the end of May until the middle of October,” she said. “So the blessing here is that you have farmers’ markets all year round.”


Still, she’s come full circle — from baking pies in 4-H as a child in the Midwest to baking bread as an adult. But, she said, she prefers baking in SLO County.

“There’s no humidity,” she said. “And no mosquitoes.”

Glenna Evans helps a customer Some of the goodies offered by Breaking Bread Breaking Bread Fresh arrivals Some of the many artisan breads offered by Breaking Bread Glenna Evans grew up on a farm in Illinois The view from the back of the Breaking Bread van Glenna Evans is also a photographer



Dairy Sheeps Provide Ewe-unique Cheese Tue, 21 Jun 2016 15:56:49 +0000 Marie Abuhilal offers a sample of sheep cheese at the SLO downtown farmers' market.

Marie Abuhilal offers a sample of sheep cheese at the SLO downtown farmers’ market.

As patrons walk by her booth at the Thursday night farmers’ market in San Luis Obispo, Marie Abuhilal calls out to them like a carnival barker, offering free shaved samples of sheep’s milk cheese.

“We make it lactose-free!” she tells each person as she grinds samples of cheese into their hands. If her words don’t drive the point home, there’s a wooden cutout of a cartoon sheep propped up in front of her booth, a sign around its neck declaring, “Lactose Free.”

It’s still early so Abuhilal continues to set up her booth, placing photos of her sheep on her table near a feature published in the Fresno Bee about her farm, Chateau Fresno Organics.

French words and Fresno are associated even less frequently than sheep and milk. But Abuhilal’s not sheepish about her cheese — and how it can help the lactose intolerant.

“I have a lot of followers,” she says. “They can’t digest.”

Abuhilal, new to the Thursday night farmers’ market in San Luis Obispo, promises to help.

Her outgoing husband, Abe, who can often be seen at local farmers’ markets wearing a cheese head hat, is an agriculture consultant, who grew up in the Middle East and studied cheeses in Italy.

As the sign says, sheep cheese is easier to digest.

As the sign says, sheep cheese is easier to digest.

Sales of dairy sheep are less common than cows, largely because lambing requires more work than calving or kidding. And sheep yield less milk. Yet, sheep have actually been milked longer than cows.

Popular cheese made from sheep’s milk includes feta, ricotta and roquefort.

Still, you won’t see a lot of dairy sheep farms in the U.S. despite the benefits of sheep cheese: It’s highly nutritious and richer in certain vitamins and calcium than cow’s milk. It also has a higher proportion of short- and medium-chain fatty acids, which helps make them easier to digest.

With hundreds of sheep at the Chateau Fresno, there will be plenty of cheese to go around. And Marie Abuhilal will remain actively involved in the process.

“I milk the sheep myself,” she said.