A sign in front of Richard Venegas’ booth at Sunday’s first farmers’ market at the Camino Real Marketplace read “$2.50/pound; watch your fingers.” A tank of live crabs sat beside it on a pile of ice.
“The ice keeps them dormant,” Venegas said.
From seafood and flowers to fresh fruit and vegetables, over 40 vendors set up shop on the cobblestone thoroughfare between KB Toys and Borders Books, marking the opening day of the eighth such market to be operated by the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers’ Market Association (SBCFMA).
Following its Mother’s Day opening, Laurence Hauben, SBCFMA executive director, said the market at Camino Real would continue taking place every Sunday from 9 to 1 p.m.
“We’re going to have a grand opening later,” Hauben said. “We want to get our feet wet first.”
Sunday’s opening makes the Camino Real farmers’ market the third largest in the area, behind downtown Santa Barbara’s market, which hosts nearly 100 growers every Saturday morning, and Goleta’s other farmers’ market, which takes place with 60 growers every Thursday from 3 to 6 p.m. across from Trader Joe’s. All are operated by the SBCFMA.
Hauben said the SBCFMA ensures product quality and freshness by linking farmers and growers with consumers.
“Every seller is a producer – they’re not resellers,” Hauben said. “You’re dealing directly with the people who grow.”
A steady stream of people strolled passed the line of booths, some making three or four passes before buying. Flowers sold briskly and a man collecting donations by making balloon hats for children stayed busy.
Other kids and adults watched as Venegas held up different crabs, explaining how each species has a different flavor.
Venegas, a licensed crab trapper, also displayed a binder of pictures taken of him catching crabs near Santa Cruz Island. He said he has been crab fishing for about five years, but only began selling his catches at Santa Barbara County farmers’ markets last year.
“I only use about 15 to 20 traps,” he said. “I try to get the best and let the rest go.”
Gail Zannon, who co-owns the Santa Barbara Pistachio Company with her husband, served free samples of the company’s nuts to passersby. She said her sons often help staff the booth at other market locations.
The company, which got its start selling at farmers’ markets before opening a successful mail order distribution system, grows its pistachios on a 300-acre farm off Highway 133 in Maricopa. She described the differences between locally grown nuts and those shipped in from other countries, such as the red dyes some companies use to hide imperfections that form when the nuts are not processed quickly enough after harvesting.
“Part of the farmers’ market is being able to talk to people,” Zannon said. “My job as a farmer is to explain the differences.”
Lance Birk said he has been selling his flowers, grown on five acres in Winchester Canyon, at farmers’ markets for the past 17 years. Birk, owner of Lance’s Flowers, said he sells unusual varieties of specialty cut flowers that flower shops and other vendors do not carry.
“[The first day] is encouraging,” Birk said. “The people are friendly and happy to have us here.”