Stop by my farmers’ market on a Friday morning at the peak of summer and you might hear Lone Oak Ranch’s Marlene Gonzalez, a fourth-generation organic farmer, describe what a pluot is (a cross between a plum and an apricot). Or Roberto Rodriguez, who grows some of the sweetest strawberries you’ll ever taste, reveal why he decided to switch nearly half of his 37 acres of fields to organic agriculture so his 6-year-old would not be exposed to pesticides. Nearby, at Nunez Farm’s stall, you might well overhear shoppers exchanging recipes for Japanese eggplant. If it’s late fall or winter, you might see a kid tasting a pomegranate or persimmon for the first time, looking wary at first, and then breaking into a broad grin. Everywhere you wander, you’ll catch the yeasty smell of fresh bread from Vital Vittles (a bakery in Berkeley, which mills its own flour) and the sweet perfume of fresh-cut flowers grown by Abel Fernandes. But what’s different about this market is that you’ll also see doctors and nurses racing out on their breaks to grab a bag of tender salad greens or a basket of colorful squash to take home. You may also see visiting family members pick up bunches of cut flowers for a patient’s room and armloads of fresh fruit and vegetables for the coming week.
If I sound like a proud father when I talk about “my” market, that’s how I feel. Six years ago, I was walking across the lobby of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, California, where I work as a primary-care physician, when I noticed some vendors selling jewelry and purses. I remember thinking what a clever idea it was to set up shop where thousands of people come and go every day, even if hawking fashion accessories seemed a little incongruous at a major metropolitan hospital. And then I had another thought: if someone can make a go of selling purses and jewelry, why not use the space to promote something that really reflects the values of our health-care program?
Why not a farmers’ market? There seemed to be no reason not to and at least seven good reasons why everyone—patients, doctors and even you—should shop, cook and eat from a farmers’ market.