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JUST THINK: If it hadn't been for farmers' markets, foodies may have never gotten to know the kiwi fruit; fuzzy and odd-looking on the outside, but sweet and delectable on the inside.

The kiwi was largely unknown to Californians — after all, who would take a chance on such a weird-looking piece of produce? — until it connected with throngs at the L.A. Farmers Market in the 1970s.

Now, it's an accepted part of produce departments at conventional grocery stores, but it took farmers' markets to introduce it, according to Catherine Barr, executive director of the nonprofit Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Markets.

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This nonprofit organization, which manages four markets, three of them on the Monterey Peninsula, guarantees through the certification process that all their markets' products are made in California, and sold by the farmers who grow or make them.

"A lot of these farmers are selling produce that you will not see in a grocery store," said Barr. "The beauty of the farmers' market is that you can actually talk to the farmer and find out what to do with that produce."

Finding that perfect strawberry, those Asian specialties like long beans and bitter melon, or raw nuts in bulk, has never been easier. Farmers' markets have sprung up all around Monterey County in recent years, allowing small farmers to make a living and consumers to benefit from the bounty.


And it's a perfect way to sample some of the more unusual items that California farmers grow.

Every local farmers' market has its own personality and unique blend of items for sale. At the Old Monterey Marketplace, held year round on Alvarado Street, a plethora of ethnic food vendors entice the dinner crowd, who munch as they shop for produce and artisans' wares. At Monterey Peninsula College's market, the county's oldest at 35 years, living plants and fresh flowers are just as sought after as the produce.

(Herald Archive)

Some markets even have additional missions, like that of the farmers' market held Wednesdays at Natividad Medical Center in Salinas. It was started three years ago as a joint project between the county health department and the hospital as a way to encourage nutrition and healthy lifestyles.
"I love seeing little kids (at the market) gnawing on strawberries rather than eating chips," said Andrea Rosenberg, a Natividad administrator who organizes the market. And although it was originally aimed at hospital staff and patients, the market now draws community members from the neighborhoods that surround the hospital.

Most of the local farmers' markets are also outlets for community education and awareness.

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The Old Monterey Marketplace has a "free speech corner" where political or other concerns can be aired; market manager Ray Headley notes that one of the highlights of the corner is the fellow who gives away free books each week. "He's been doing that for years," Headley said. Some markets encourage nonprofit booths alongside the produce vendors; still others offer free entertainment, like the Oldtown Salinas Marketplace.

Some stick to primarily produce; others have a wider variety of edible items for sale, such as baked goods, grass-fed beef, fresh seafood, organic eggs and honey, and preserves like jams and pickles.

There's a farmer's market held somewhere in Monterey County every day of the week. Some of the most popular markets are listed here.
Additional information, such as vendor lists and parking, can be found at these websites: everyonesharvest.org, montereybayfarmers.org, oldmonterey.org and www.oldtownsalinas.com.

The Barnyard:

Tuesdays 9 a.m.-1 p.m.,
May to September,
Barnyard Shopping Village

Marina Farmers' Market:

Sundays 10 a.m.-2 p.m.,
215 Reservation Road

Del Monte Center:

Sundays 8 a.m.-noon,
May to October,
Whole Foods parking lot

Monterey Peninsula College:
Fridays 10 a.m.-2 p.m., year-round,
lower level parking lot

Old Monterey Marketplace:
Tuesdays 4-8 p.m., year-round,
Alvarado Street

Pacific Grove Farmers' Market:

Mondays 4-7 p.m., year-round,
Central and Grand avenues

University Plaza Farmers' Market:

Mondays 4-8 p.m., year-round,
Fremont Boulevard and
Echo Avenue

Alisal Certified Farmers' Market:

Thursdays 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.,
spring opening TBA,
632 E. Alisal St.

Natividad Medical Center Farmers'
Market: Wednesdays 11 a.m.-4
p.m., March to November, 1441
Constitution Blvd.

Oldtown Salinas Marketplace:
Saturdays 9 a.m.-2 p.m.,
Main Street across from
Maya Cinemas

Greenfield Sunday's Market:

Sundays 9 a.m.-3 p.m., TBA

King City Farmers' Market:
Wednesdays, 4-7 p.m.,
May 4-Oct. 26,
South Valley Auto Plaza parking lot,
905 Broadway St.

Soledad Farmers' Market:
Thursdays, 4-8 p.m.,
May to October,
Encinal Street