Main Hall full of handpicked farmers and quality goods
Ian Anderson | Downtown News
The San Diego Public Market opened its doors on Wednesday, Sept. 12, publicly launching the ambitious merchant space in Barrio Logan with an inaugural Farmers’ Market. Funded in part by community donations made through social networking site Kickstarter.com, the Market attracted an eager and engaged crowd, including many presumed micro financers curious to see the location for the first time.
What they found was a 22-thousand square foot, bright orange warehouse, three blocks southeast of Petco Park at 1735 National Ave. Under its high ceilings, the familiar tents and folding tables of a neighborhood farmers’ market availed themselves with freshly picked local produce, handcrafted housewares and artisan foods.
Founders Dale Steele and Catt Fields White kicked things off with a ceremonial ribbon cutting, but for the most part the day felt like business as usual at a farmers’ market. Local chefs and foodies browsed and bought naturally farmed produce and gourmet items.
Some were simply there to see and be seen, chatting casually and sipping cups of organic coffee being sold by neighborhood roaster, Café Virtuoso. It’s a scene that now continues to play out each Wednesday and Sunday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.
If anything distinguishes this market, it might be the hand-picked group of farmers and vendors that make it one of the best places in the county to shop for quality foods. Several booths offer organic and/or pesticide-free fruits and vegetables from nearby Bonsall, Escondido and Fallbrook. Meljess Bees touts the health advantages of locally produced honey from Murrieta. The Descanso Valley Ranch offers “pastured poultry” out of El Cajon. The California Olive presses olive and avocado oils from their groves in the San Felipe Valley.
Meat, seafood and dairy are also prevalent, and generally of a very high quality. The Carlsbad Aquafarm provides mussels and oysters plucked from the saltwater only hours earlier. T&H butcher shop in San Marcos shows up with a savory and inventive assortment of prime grade sausages. Other vendors offer grass-fed beef, wild caught Alaska salmon, fresh baked bread, handmade pastas, and European-styled California cheeses.
This kind of shopping tends to make people hungry, so several vendors are on site offering prepared foods to nourish the appetite, ranging from gourmet tamales and crepes to Indian and African street food, and even sushi. Desserts include the pies and pastries of Under the Crust and Sweet Lydia’s, or vegan and gluten-free cakes of The Sustainable Pantry.
Many of these small businesses might not exist today without the support of farmers’ markets, but as the popularity of the markets has increased over recent years, their clienteles have as well, earning them loyal followings and growing reputations. They’re excited about the potential for growth provided by the San Diego Public Market, which will eventually feature full-time stalls in its main hall, enabling some of these vendors to operate longer hours, six days per week.
Omar Jimenez is a local craftsman with a small wood shop in Santee. His business, OMNI Butcher Blocks, sells elegant hand-made cutting boards at the Public Market. The quite beautiful and very durable butcher blocks are costly to produce, however, and their prices reflect this, making them more likely to appeal to chefs and restaurateurs than casual Market shoppers.
In the weeks since the Public Market began, Jimenez and his partner have seen the Public Market crowds fluctuate, with some days more suited to their business’s niche than others.
Jimenez believes it may take some time to see how well the Market develops, and whether it will provide enough of a customer base to thrive. However, he’s optimistic.
“It’s tough,” Jimenez said. “I’m not ready to decide what our future’s going to be at this market … but we do know the people who manage the market are good at what they do.”
That would be Steele and White, whose efforts to turn the Public Market into a cultural destination have only begun. “If anybody knows markets,” Jimenez said, “it’s them.”
The two women started this project almost by sheer force of will, but ultimately their greatest challenge may be drawing consistent crowds to a neighborhood many may not even be aware exists. Certainly, not enough foot traffic will be lured by tasty samples offered by vendors. They will largely need to rely on word of mouth, and on adventurous gourmands around the county seeking out San Diego’s newest foodie hub.
The San Diego Public Market is easily accessible from Interstate 5 South, located just a block from the Cesar E. Chavez off-ramp. Free parking is offered in lots found in the alley behind the warehouse, just off Beardsley between National and Newton. More information may be found at SanDiegoPublicMarket.com.
Ian Anderson is an author and reporter, who has published books about e-commerce and the environment, and written articles on food, music, community events and politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.