Go to the market with someone who is a regular shopper
Try different products to find out which farmers you prefer
Be adventuresome; don’t be afraid to try something you’ve never had before
Ask the seller how to prepare it, if you don’t know
* Editor’s note: This three-part series profiles locals who are dedicated Davis Farmers Market shoppers, and looks at why they spend their food dollars there.
In the past year, more than 1,000 new farmers markets have opened across the nation. That’s a whopping 17 percent growth, from 6,132 to 7,175 markets, mostly due to growing consumer interest in eating farm-fresh products grown locally.
That interest is evident every Wednesday and Saturday at the Davis Farmers Market, where loyal customers fill their shopping baskets to the brim. And just like those thousands of farmers markets around the country, the Davis market owes its success to loyal customers who spend their food dollars there.
Davis resident Marilyn Bowker is one of those loyal customers. Nearly every week, year-round, she starts her Saturday the same way: by shopping at the Davis Farmers Market in Central Park, Third and C streets downtown.
“It’s kind of a special thing. I like getting there early because I feel like I have the market to myself,” she says. “The atmosphere makes me feel so good and everybody is so friendly. I like starting my Saturday there.”
Bowker is a retired teacher who moved with her family from Oregon to Davis in 1987. She says she made her first trip to the Farmers Market that year.
“I was so excited to see strawberries and melons in September,” she recalls.
She is one of those shoppers who plans her trips to the market: “I go with a list, but I always buy more than is on my list.”
Calling the market “uplifting,” she continues, “It makes you feel lucky to live in an area that produces this much wonderful food. We are so fortunate. And the market has taught me to cook what’s in season.”
The Davis Farmers Market gives shoppers the opportunity to develop personal connections with the farmers, ranchers and producers. Bowker exemplifies that. She says the market is a great gathering place where she looks forward to seeing her farmer friends like Dianne Madison and Cathy Curlee.
“Dianne is incredible because she remembers everyone’s name,” Bowker says. “She always asks about our grandchildren. I give Cathy’s wreaths as Christmas presents. She also does my holiday centerpiece for the dining table.”
Bowker always starts her shopping at Dianne and Mike Madison’s stand.
“I want to be sure to get the flowers I want. That’s an indulgence that I didn’t pursue when I had a growing family.”
Then it’s on to Mission Fresh Fish for salmon and MacDonald Farm for Chandler walnuts, where she comments, “These are the best walnuts.”
At Attalah’s Madison Growers, she checks out melons and decides on cucumbers and red and yellow peppers.
She stops at Good Humus and says, “I always like to buy at Annie Main’s stand because I think they represent the market.”
She inquires about a peach variety, then picks out Suncrest peaches and small potatoes, asking Jeff Main, “Guaranteed good?” Main replies, “It’s hard to get a guarantee with nature.” And they both laugh.
Next, she’s off to Garden Highway Gardens for corn.
“They have the best corn all the way into November,” Bowker confides.
She asks the seller when the casaba melons will be ready — they’re her husband’s favorite — and the seller tells her another month. She confesses, “I always ask the seller to pick out the melons for me.”
Today she buys six ears of corn. With her shopping basket full, she goes to her car to unload her basket so she can continue shopping.
At Everything Under the Sun, she stops to look and says, “I tend to buy more than I might need because it all looks so good. I always try to buy here because they are such lovely people and they have beautiful produce.” She purchases Zephyr squash and Japanese eggplant.
Then she heads to Feather River Farms for nectarines where she and the seller are all smiles while they chat.
Bowker heads back to the Madisons’ stand to pick up the flowers Dianne set aside for her. She buys beets at Fiddlers Green Farm before heading to her car.
She confides, “My next stop will be the Davis Food Co-op, then to Peet’s Coffee for a latte. It’s my Saturday treat.”
So how much does a loyal customer like Bowker spend at the Davis Farmers Market?
“We probably spend a third of our food budget if not more at the Davis Farmers Market,” she says. “Knowing that the produce has just been picked makes a big difference and it keeps a long time when it’s farm-fresh.
“Whatever I have in my wallet is gone. I feel a need to support local farmers. I don’t want to lose the small farmers in our area.”
She says she loves everything about her shopping experience.
“I love unloading my bags at home and hearing my husband ask, ‘Who is going to eat all this?’ I tell him, ‘Just you wait and see. By Thursday, this will all be gone.’ ”
She explains that buying a lot has pushed her to try new products and recipes.
“I like to ask farmers how to prepare things. I made a quince and apple pie at Thanksgiving, and I had never done a quince pie before.”
Another thing Bowker loves about the market is the wealth of knowledge among sellers.
“I like that there is no middle man. The sellers can tell you about their crops, how they grow them, how they like to prepare them — anything you want to know,” she explains.
She also favors the social aspects of the market.
“Davis is just one of the nicest communities and the farmers market is a real attribute. There’s so much going on at every market — music, food demos and festivals. Whenever our kids come home with their families, they always want to go to the Farmers Market. The kids want to ride the carousel and get their faces painted and do all those fun things. And I love Picnic in the Park.”
For Marilyn Bowker, the Davis Farmers Market is a central part of Davis.
“I love that our market goes all year long, rain or shine,” she says. “It’s very much the essence of Davis — just as much as bicycles are.”
— Shelly Keller is marketing and events manager of the Davis Farmers Market. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org