Melting Pot of Santa Cruz Culture in Downtown Farmers Market

Downtown Santa Cruz is a hub of commerce, culture and food.

While the main drag is on Pacific Avenue, one would be remiss if you didn’t peel off into the side streets. How else would you find the Downtown Santa Cruz Farmers Market?

People at Santa Cruz Farmers Market

Krysia Zajonc and Mateo Aguilar scope out bouquet of flowers in the downtown Santa Cruz Farmers Market

Downtown Santa Cruz Farmers Market

Run by Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Market, the year-round event is one of five and the largest of the lot. At the corner of Cedar and Lincoln streets, the market has a rich history dating back to one of the city’s biggest tragedies.

Following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that devastated much of Santa Cruz and the region, a small group of farmers came together with a vision of showing a fighting spirit. They wanted to create a market that brought energy to a city trying to rebuild. With a little more than five farmers, the group formed an association and opened the downtown market in 1990.

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“The history of the market I think really speaks to the resilience and smarts of the local farming community,” said Nicole Zahm, education and events coordinator for Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Market.

From that small market grew a weekly tradition that draws countless people to downtown Santa Cruz each week. At its peak in the summer, there are more than 70 vendors with produce, hot dishes, baked goods, hot sauces, fermented pickles and other foods.

One of the largest draws is the mix of hot foods at the market. The market features Mexican dishes and Indian food, among other cuisines. One of the latest additions is a vendor who serves fermented breads and curries made with recipes out of Eritrea, an East African country.

That dynamic makes it a foodie’s paradise, Zahm said.

Even in the winter, when the number of vendors is nearly cut in half, the food is still special. Carrots, greens and other vegetables are at their sweetest.

“It’s largely greens and root crops [in the winter]. But to the die-hard marketer, you will know that kiwis come on in the winter and some things that are citrus come on in the winter,” Zahm said.

The market is the birthplace of many popular Santa Cruz County food vendors. El Salchichero and Companion Bakeshop – busy institutions in Santa Cruz’s burgeoning Westside – got their start at the market, Zahm said.

Santa Cruz Farmers Market

Strawberries and blackberries adorn a table at the downtown Santa Cruz Farmers Market.

It’s the popularity and low cost that helps fledgling vendors. The market allows gives them exposure to the public in a high traffic area without the cost of a storefront, Zahm said.

“Another cool aspect of it is that it’s a microcosm of Santa Cruz at large,” she said, adding that people from all demographics and income levels frequent the market. “You’re going to find clean cut people, you’re going to find people with tattoos, crazy hair and piercings. It’s a very social place.”

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