Seasonal produce of various colors can be found at your local market.

As we leave winter quarter behind and head into spring — marked in Isla Vista by intermittent sunshine, rain and relentlessly annoying coastal fog — local markets begin bursting with colorful spring produce. UC Santa Barbara’s location on California’s Central Coast offers a prime locale for purchasing fresh, locally sourced produce. Watch out for the following fruits and vegetables returning to shelves after months of unavailability.

Strawberries, perhaps, are the most eagerly awaited local crop. Grown throughout the Central Coast and the San Joaquin Valley, this juicy fruit peaks during the spring months. Throughout the cooler months, growers in Santa Maria and Oxnard continue to harvest this quintessential spring fruit, allowing strawberries to remain on grocery shelves throughout the fall. While imported berries are generally sold year-round by chain grocery stores, consider supporting local vendors for freshly picked, locally grown strawberries, which are often brighter and sweeter than store-bought varieties. Some local farms are even open to the public for berry picking during the spring: Lane Farms Strawberry Patch, located at 308 S. Walnut Lane, Santa Barbara, is open on Sundays from March until June. Grab a gallon bucket and your friends and stop by! Consider adding your bounty to green salads, yogurt parfaits and homemade smoothies.

But strawberries aren’t the only bite-sized fruit heralded by spring: blueberry and cherry season is nearly underway. Both blueberries and cherries thrive in California’s temperate spring climate and can be readily found in stores from April to midsummer. Enjoy both by the handful, tossed into salads or baked into pies and muffins.

Avocados are another seasonal favorite. Peaking in spring and lasting through the summer, California-grown avocados can be easily found in local grocery stores and farmers markets. While consumers can buy imported avocados year-round, locally grown fruits have the advantage of being picked and arriving in your home in just a few days — that kind of freshness is hard to beat. Take advantage of California’s avocado season by adding them to Thai-style spring rolls, spreading them on breakfast toasts and mashing them into homemade guacamole.

Perhaps the most underrated spring arrival is asparagus. Known for its slim stalks and earthy, slightly bitter flavor, asparagus thrives near the Central Coast and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Packed with vitamins A, C, E, K, iron, potassium and calcium, this versatile vegetable is a rich source of antioxidants. Prepare them over the stovetop, under the broiler or even on the grill. From roasted asparagus to fresh spring asparagus salads to creamy asparagus soup, there are countless ways to enjoy this springtime specialty.

In addition to these seasonal favorites, California’s spring harvest includes a variety of leafy greens: watch out for spinach, kale and Swiss chard. Packed with vitamins and minerals, these nutrient-rich greens are the perfect addition to springtime salads, stir fries and smoothies.

Want to shop local and don’t know where to start? The Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market has six locations — Goleta, Santa Barbara Old Town, Downtown Santa Barbara, Solvang, Montecito and Carpinteria —that host markets on different days throughout the week. On Tuesdays, try the Santa Barbara Old Town location, located on the 500 and 600 blocks of State Street from 3-7 p.m. On Saturdays, the Downtown Santa Barbara location hosts on 119 East Cota Street from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. And on Sundays, visit the Camino Real Marketplace in Goleta from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

With dozens of local vendors at its six locations, the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market is sure to satisfy your produce needs.

While farmers markets tend to be more costly than big-box grocery stores, the difference in quality is tastable. Plus, those enrolled in CalFresh benefits can take advantage of the Market Match program, which incentivizes participants to shop locally. For example, a customer who spends $10 of CalFresh benefits at the farmers market receives an additional $10 to spend on fresh produce, for a total of $20 to spend at the market.

As we gladly embrace the change of seasons, make the most of California’s spring produce. Whether you frequent farmers markets, neighborhood grocery stores or roadside stands, you’re sure to find an array of irresistible fruits and vegetables. 

A version of this article appeared on p.8 of the April 25, 2024 version of the Daily Nexus.