The sound of animated chatter, the smell of flowers and freshly prepared food and the hustle of eager marketgoers greet anyone passing by the Wednesday farmers market, in downtown Santa Cruz. This weekly wonder is the Santa Cruz destination for locally grown and sustainable food, whether visitors are going on a grocery run or grabbing a bite to eat.

The farmers market is a foodie haven, and the food trucks have something for everyone. Around half a dozen trucks line a shaded area, emanating the delightful smell of freshly cooked food and serving a variety of cuisines, including artisan pizza from Uncie Ro’s and authentic Indian food from the India Gourmet truck.

For something more eclectic, the Truck Stop offers a taste of farm-fresh food with a twist like the Kimchi Thang or the Vietnamese-y Sandwich. Many of the food truck vendors source from local or organic farms, making them even more appealing to local food lovers.

The Truck Stop is one of those vendors, and makes a weekly appearance at the farmers market. The owners of the Truck Stop also run an organic farm in Soquel and use the farm’s produce in almost all of their food. Getting produce from their own sustainable source is a big part of the Truck Stop’s business.

“Why would you buy something grown far away when you can buy something grown right around you? For me, buying locally is just what you do,” said Truck Stop co-ownerFran Grayson.

In addition to freshly farmed and prepared Santa Cruz produce, dozens of other vendors offer high quality meats, breads, flowers and more. Most of the vendors are from Santa Cruz county, and their products are often fresher than those you can purchase at a grocery store.

“It’s for your own benefit, since it’s the highest quality food,” said Ronald Donkervoort, a Windmill Farms farmer who sells produce at the farmers market. “I harvest in the morning and bring it to the market the same day. Even the potatoes — I dig them up in the morning and bring them to the market. It’s the idea of a local economy and making and spending the money locally.”     As Donkervoort pointed out, one of the many benefits of buying locally grown food is higher quality. In many cases the farmer harvested the produce hours before bringing it to the market. Locally grown and harvested food has a shorter distance to travel between the farm and the market, preserving freshness and consuming less resources.

Photo by Aimee Hare.
Photo by Aimee Hare.

Farmers markets in Santa Cruz County benefit from the many organic farms in the area, as such farms provide consumers with environmentally-friendly, pesticide-free food. Buying locally grown food is also an investment in the community. The money spent at a local farm vendor goes back into the community in the form of wages, taxes and new produce.

Buying from the farmers market not only provides the freshest and best sourced food, but also supports local farms and businesses and helps make the Santa Cruz community stronger, said Think Local First co-founder Peter Beckmann.

“If I buy from a locally owned business, I basically invest in that community,” Beckmann said. “Not only on a money level, but on everything that comes with it, starting with the actual community feeling.”

Shopping at the farmers market is a different experience from a trip to a commercial grocery store. The farmers market gives people the opportunity to interact with farmers and learn about where their food comes from rather than picking it off of a shelf without knowing its story.

“It’s interesting for [marketgoers] to get to know who grows their food and who supports organic and sustainable agriculture,” said local food truck co-owner Fran Grayson. “Customers get to be around people who are like-minded.”

The farmers market allows Santa Cruzans to connect with their community in a lively environment and to connect with their food on a deeper level than can be achieved in a typical grocery store aisle.