Food & Drink

Farmers market team adds peachy theme to draw crowds

Miya Nelson, 8, center, watches her competitors during the peach eating contest at BeMoneySmartUSA’s Peach Festival on Saturday in Folsom.
Miya Nelson, 8, center, watches her competitors during the peach eating contest at BeMoneySmartUSA’s Peach Festival on Saturday in Folsom. aseng@sacbee.com

In a farmers market scene as crowded as Sacramento’s, sometimes it takes a little gimmick to stand out.

That’s what market organizers Don and Marie Hall were hoping as they publicized the inaugural farmers market Peach Festival, held this weekend at their Folsom and Land Park markets.

Peaches hit their stride in July and August, though farmers said they came in earlier this year due to the heat. And while Georgia has a reputation for growing them, California is the nation’s largest producer of peaches, according to data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Spotlighting the crop offered a creative way to spotlight the markets, Marie Hall said.

“Several of our producers say their biggest crop is peaches,” she said. “We wanted to celebrate the height of the season by raising awareness and giving people a reason to come to the farmers market.”

Hall is the executive director of nonprofit BeMoneySmartUSA, which educates youths about money management by employing them at farmers market stalls. She and her husband use the model to run seven farmers markets in the Sacramento region.

She launched the festival last weekend in Carmichael, at one of her oldest and largest markets. The event, which featured kids games, peach eating contests, homemade pie judging and cooking demos, drew 3,000 to that location – about twice the normal traffic. The aisles appeared more bustling than usual Saturday at the Folsom market, which staff members said usually hosts 75 to 100 people at any given time.

David Herrera, general manager at Cipponeri Family Farms in Turlock, said he brought 20 boxes of peaches Saturday instead of his usual 10 in anticipation of the event. The farm’s peach yield has been good this year, he said, with Suncrest varietals arriving in May and the large, high-quality O’Henry peach on its way in now.

“We almost couldn’t pick them fast enough,” Herrera said. “Each year’s a little different with the weather and the conditions, but this is turning out to be a pretty good one. I like to slice them up and eat them in a bowl, or grill them.”

There are 75 vendors at the Folsom market, most of whom visit other BeMoneySmartUSA locations throughout the week. Area farmers have to make careful choices about where to sell, with 28 certified farmers markets in Sacramento County alone.

While the Sunday market under the freeway is the area’s oldest market and one of the largest in the state, farmers said Saturday that they preferred the fun, family feel of Hall’s markets.

The BeMoneySmartUSA markets have also distinguished themselves by showcasing specialty foods, which Hall called their niche. In addition to stalls of produce, these markets welcome vendors of hummus, olive oil, herbs, juices and other gourmet snacks. A separate market section features art, jewelry and knickknacks.

Louie Jimenez, owner of Try Momma Salsa, said he’s been able to build a strong client base at five BeMoneySmartUSA locations over the past year.

This weekend, he sold out of his peach-and-jalapeno salsa, which he made using ingredients mostly purchased from other stalls. Around the market, vendors were selling out of theme delicacies such as ginger peach scones, peach lemonade and peach cornbread.

For some customers, farmers markets are more about the experience than the shopping. Helen Wallquist, a Granite Bay resident, said she brought her daughter, Kira, to the Folsom Peach Festival for some inexpensive entertainment, as well as a chance to learn about new kinds of produce.

Wallquist grew up going to local produce festivals, such as the garlic festival and artichoke festival, and most recently visited the Pear Fair in Courtland.

“We go to all these things,” she said. “This one is doing a good job for its first year. And I like that they combined it with the farmers, because I kind of forgot this one was here.”

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola

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