Hemet and San Jacinto’s farmers markets offer something for everyone
■ By Mary Ann Morris / Editor
Farmers markets are becoming so popular that last Thursday U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue proclaimed Aug. 6-12 to be National Farmers Market Week. This is the 18th year the USDA has supported local producers by encouraging families to meet, and buy from, the farmers and other vendors at their local farmers market.
The proclamation Perdue signed notes that farmers markets and other agricultural direct marketing outlets contribute approximately $9 billion each year to the U.S. economy and “serve as significant outlets by which small-to-medium, new and beginning, and veteran agricultural producers market agricultural products, generating revenue that supports the sustainability of family farms and the revitalization of rural communities nationwide.”
In addition to being good for the farmers and convenient for consumers, farmers markets are a gathering place that help build a sense of community. The USDA says that in the last 20 years, the number of farmers markets has grown by more than 350 percent. Many consumers are now choosing “local” for dining at home and when dining out, and this is making a major impact on the nation’s food systems.
And speaking of community, one elderly mother and her daughter attend the San Jacinto farmers market every Thursday, purchase their goodies, and go out to lunch and perhaps a movie. “It’s our girl’s day out,” said the mother. “We look forward to it all week.”
Farmer’s markets can range from the very large to the relatively small, and first-time visitors may not know where to begin. Hemet and San Jacinto each have their own farmers market, and while each market has its own distinct flavor, they both feature balloon artists!
Balloon artist Sunny Sunshine, 72, has a smile on his face, and is happy to create a balloon animal (or two) for any child who strolls past his booth at the Hemet Farmers Market. San Jacinto’s farmers market also has a balloon artist – Ben Circo – who shares a booth with his mother, who goes by the stage name Flora Doodle, who is a face painter.
Most of the creations by the mother and son team range in price from $1 to $10, depending upon the complexity of the balloon sculpture and the detail of the painting.
“Larger pieces, like centerpieces, run about $25,” said Circo. Artistic talent runs in the Circo family, as his brother is a magician.
The Hemet Farmers Market is held every Saturday, rain or shine, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on North Harvard Street off of Latham Avenue. While the Hemet Farmers Market may be short on farm-fresh produce, it has a bevy of entertainment, from balloon artists to bird wranglers, to home-made treats for your pups… it even has a purveyor of personal protection products!
Tom Skinner, owner of Tom’s Sharp & Noisy, says his booth attracts a lot of attention. “We’ve got a little bit of everything here,” says Skinner, whose arsenal of personal protection items includes pepper spray, stun guns and even replicas of weapons, including Michonne’s katana from AMC’s hit show “The Walking Dead.”
Skinner says one of his most popular products, especially with seniors, is the Zap Cane, which is a combination walking aid, flashlight and stun gun.
“With all the crime in town, this really makes the seniors feel empowered, especially at night,” said Skinner. “The noise alone is enough to scare anyone off!”
The San Jacinto Farmers Market is held every Thursday from 8 a. m. to 1 p.m., at the aptly-named Farmer’s Corner shopping center, at the corner of East Menlo Avenue and South San Jacinto Street. This farmers market offers more traditional farmers market fare, such as certified organic produce and artisanal products such as honey, bee pollen, honeycomb, infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars.
It has several vendors of ready-to-eat foods, including, tamales, chicken bowls and Mediterranean delights such as hummus, tabbouleh salad and a variety of dips and cheeses to spread on freshly-baked pita bread. Crowd favorites are the three-layer appetizer dips, feta cheese and sun-dried tomato dips and on the sweeter side, several flavors of labneh, a Mediterranean version of yogurt. My favorite is lemon.
The San Jacinto farmers market also offers a rewards card for loyal shoppers. Every time a purchase is made, the vendor signs off a spot on the card. When the card is full, it can be traded in for a $5 wooden nickel, good for redemption at any booth in the market. The market also accepts WIC vouchers and EBT food cards.
Artisanal honey products, from trial size bottles of different flavored and infused honeys, to honeycomb, and bee pollen are offered by local beekeeper Shay Arviso, who says that the Hemet Unified School District is one of her best customers. “They buy about 12 gallons a week on average,” said Arviso. A gallon sells for about $70.
Shopping at the local farmer’s market tends to be more than just a shopping trip – many sellers are happy to offer tips and make some suggestions based on the foods you like. Just ask them. Every vendor I spoke with is very friendly, and happy to educate you about their products.