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Bountiful South County Local farmers’ markets just keep getting better S outh County residents are blessed with thriving farmers’ markets that offer the benefits of California’s farm-to-table goodness. Local markets that are designated by the State of California Agricultural Commissioner as “Certified Farmers’ Markets” assure customers they are buying direct from the source. Residents can meet local area farmers, learn about local growing and ranching practices and benefit from just-harvested fruits, vegeta- bles, starter plants, eggs and poultry. According to Gayle Hayden, Executive Director of California Farmers’ Market Association (CFMA), “People want to eat healthy and they like to shop locally. What we are seeing is a sustainable movement in favor of a local and secure food supply that offers real nutrition, not a fad.” CFMA is a mutual benefit corporation providing Certified Farmers’ Markets for the Bay Area since 1994. CFMA connects farmers to community markets through promotional activities including comparative tasting events as well as cooking and gardening demonstrations. Growing interest in fresh markets also provides an opportunity for local farmers to introduce the community to heirloom and specialty crops, plants and cut flowers that may not be available in supermarkets. One example is the Babcock peach, which has a superior flavor but doesn’t ship well. Adding to fresh market appeal is the presence of local food artisans who sell hand-crafted gourmet food items along with recipes and serving suggestions to help with meal and party planning. Many local area farmers and food producers also participate in the Gilroy Garlic Festival, Taste of Morgan Hill, the Mushroom Mardi Gras and other commu- nity events. Gilroy’s Welten Farms is a certified organic grower of heirloom vegetables such as rainbow carrots and snack cucumbers, and kale and kohlrabi crops for organic seed production. Pansies and other flow- ers flourish in Welten greenhouses. Owner Ronald Welten has been with the Gilroy Farmers’ Market since 2011 and he’s been in the seed business for 20 years. “This year, opening day was extremely busy from the minute the market opened and many vendors were sold out before it closed. We’re off to a great start and want to keep the momentum going,” Welten said. For the past five years, Lisa Knutson, aka the “Pasture Chick”, has been offering farm fresh eggs and poultry at our local farmers’ markets. Knutson raises heritage chickens on a ranch she and her husband own in Hollister. “We sell at a number of farmers’ mar- kets, but especially here in Morgan Hill and Gilroy we’ve met so many people who support sustainable farming and want their families to benefit from the farm-to-table experience,” Knutson said. GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN JULY/ AUGUST 2015 Like other farmers, Oya Organics har- vests its vegetables during the wee hours of the morning to ensure just-picked freshness at the market. Among its seasonal offerings are Delicata and other squash varieties as well as leeks, tri-color carrots, snap peas and fava beans. Penny Lane Farm is a hit with custom- ers looking for young heirloom tomato or pepper plants ready to pop into their back- yard gardens. Be prepared to explore their catalog because proprietors Diane and Dan Matarangas offer more than 200 varieties of tomatoes to choose from. No farmers’ market would be complete without fresh flowers. Thanks to Country Essences of Watsonville and Prunedale- based Royal Oaks Nursery, market regulars can pick up colorful and fragrant bouquets of fresh-cut flowers for holidays, special occasions and everyday enjoyment. According to Nic Ruvalcaba at Royal Oaks, “Over the years I’ve learned what local customers want. They come to the market for fresh, locally-grown flowers they can’t get in retail stores.” Ruvalcaba took over the 100-acre nursery more than 15 years ago and he’s been selling through CFMA ever since. South County families return to market week after week for fresh, flavorful green and red leaf lettuce and sweet cherry toma- toes from Chong Farm; rainbow chard, ten- der broccolini, fennel and organic kale from Swank Farms; and sweet strawberries from 25