Here’s what you’ll find at Sacramento’s Asian Farmer’s Market
The street performer jamming on the corner of X and 6th streets Sunday morning has a prime view of Sacramento shoppers walking with their reusable grocery bags toward the expanse of tents underneath the freeway that is the Sunday Farmer’s Market.
But if that musician were to look at some of the people rounding the corner from 5th Street, he may notice the bags they are carrying already have produce in them. He may even see that some of that produce is unusual. Thick stalks of fresh sugar cane poke out of one bag, a winter melon hides in another.
Shoppers with empty, unfilled bags, walk away from the Sunday Farmer’s Market under the freeway. They walk purposefully toward 5th Street and Sunday’s other farmers’ market, the Asian Market next to Co Mai’s Kitchen on Broadway.
The parking lot is bustling. Tents and shoppers overflow into the street between the parking lot and Co Mai’s Kitchen. The stretch of pavement is closed off by police cars at either end of the block.
The Sunday Asian Farmer’s Market is a smaller but well-attended institution just three blocks from the main market under the freeway. It opens at 5:30 a.m. and closes at noon Sundays. It gets busy, so much so that there can be competition for the good veggies.
“We have to come early here, otherwise you don’t get the good vegetables,” said Avinash Jain, who was shopping with his family. “So we come here at 8:30.”
Restaurateurs are often the earliest customers, vendors said, because they buy in bulk and want to make sure they can get enough of what they need. Individual shoppers start coming around 8.
Jain said he and his family come to the Asian Farmer’s Market every week. They usually head to the main farmer’s market afterward. Jain was standing off to the side of the crowded aisles with his daughter.
His daughter sat in a stroller, which explained why they weren’t diving into the melee: There is no way for Jain to navigate his stroller through the aisles of the market. Unlike the main farmer’s market under the freeway, with wide aisles and generous gaps between tents, the Asian Farmer’s Market makes economical use of its tight space.
Tables loaded with fresh produce are lined up such that aisles are not conducive to two-way traffic. But the shoppers do what they have to do to get their produce, and that means a lot of acrobatic squeezing by and excuse-mes, which often happen in a variety of different languages.
Jain and his family like to pick up vegetables like okra and spinach and spices such as ginger and chili to make curries or salads.
This grocery list highlights the main difference between the market under the freeway and the Asian Farmer’s Market: the Asian Farmer’s Market is wholly utilitarian, existing to fulfill a specific need.
While the main farmer’s market is the quintessential California fresh shopping experience, complete with fresh coffee and pastries, produce and nut butter stands alike, the Asian Farmers’ Market’s role is to supply Sacramento’s vibrant Asian community with the vegetables it needs for staple meals such as curries and stir fries.
“Generally we go (to the main farmer’s market) especially for fruits,” Jain said. “Fruits are good there, but we get vegetables better here.”
Although types of produce between the two markets overlap, the Asian Farmer’s Market provides more varieties of vegetables said Darrell Sherman, a regular at the Asian Farmer’s Market.
“For instance, they might have a lot more variety of different squashes as opposed to under the bridge they might not have any,” Sherman said. “they have the Japanese squashes opposed to the zucchini and everything like that, so that’s what I really like, the different varieties.”
Sherman was stocking up for a green juice cleanse, though he said he usually likes to buy vegetables to steam and make stir fries.
“I come right here and it’s much more inexpensive than going to the retail stores,” Sherman said. “I pick up a lot of the other raw vegetables that I eat doing this like the cauliflowers, broccolis and the snap peas that sustain you while you’re going through the 10-day cleanse.”
Garlic is one thing Sherman always buys at the market instead of the grocery store because he finds it to be significantly cheaper. Tomatoes at one booth were listed at $1 per pound, half that of the Agriculture Department’s calculated averages, and mushrooms at another booth were $2.65 per pound, close to a dollar less than the average.
“The quality is great,” Sherman said. “I’ve been coming here year-round for at least the last five years and I’m always coming back.”
Maggie Vang, of vendor Vang Produce, said that she and her family were previously selling at a market in Roseville, but they switched to Sacramento’s Asian Farmer’s Market about six years ago.
“Over there, you sell longer so you have to pack the vegetables longer,” Vang said. “For here, it’s fresh because you only pick the day before and you bring it here.”
Vang said customers are always looking for okra, eggplant and Asian mustard, but they really go crazy for chilis.
“When the time for chilis comes — it’s only in the summer — those run out,” Vang said. “Those are the best.”
Vendors said the market will get much more crowded in the summer, which is hard to imagine given how tightly packed the walkways already are.
The Sacramento Bee was unable to reach the organizer of the market to confirm how many stalls the market usually has; vendors could only provide a first name for the organizer and said she was often “around” with her husband. No one had contact information for her.
But this is part of the mythology of the Asian Farmer’s Market. People are friendly and happy to be there but they aren’t there to chat with a reporter. They are there to get their vegetables.