$40 at the Hillcrest Farmers Market
With over a million households in San Diego County, if each one committed to spending just $40 each month at their local farmers’ market, it would equate to over $500 million in support of small-scale, local businesses each year. While I know that it’s ridiculously idealistic to expect every household in the county to commit to such a pledge, I believe that there are many of us who could commit to spending more of our discretionary dollars locally. This year I’m exploring a new farmers market each month, and, as I’ve already discovered, $40 is more than enough for a delicious and entertaining afternoon outing for two.
Marketplace: Hillcrest Farmers Market
Location: Normal Ave, between Lincoln and University, San Diego
Schedule: Every Sunday from 9 am–2 pm
Year founded: 1997
Once upon a time, this was a weekly destination for me and now, I confess, it’s been at least four full years since I’ve paid a visit to the Hillcrest Farmers’ Market. This bustling open-air market will celebrate 21 years in the community this April, and has grown from 27 to an average of 175 weekly vendors.
We arrived later in the day, a little before 12:30, and scored on a parking spot in the adjacent DMV lot. It was an exciting surprise to see that the market had grown to span across two full blocks of Normal Avenue, between University and Lincoln.
We walked along the outside perimeter of canopies admiring art, clothing, and jewelry. I decided it would be best to start at the newer end of the market, walking down the center from University Avenue. For me, going to a market like this is an immersive experience, and taking an observational walk down the center of the market before buying is a tip I’d recommend if you have extra time to do some reconnaissance, wet your appetite, and strategize a game plan.
The newer market block between University and Harvey Milk is packed with prepared food vendors, a confluence of cultures in what is being described as an international food court. A whole day of recreational eating could be had here. The lines are long and the offerings are exciting and various, from stuffed hashbrowns to Indian to Japanese to Turkish—this might be the most diverse block of food in the city.
Walking across Harvey Milk Street to the original market block brought back a sense of the familiar. This is where you’ll find actual farmers in the market, along with local foodie favorites like Bitchin’ Sauce. My market companion quickly remembered and expressed his desire to fulfill an old routine of picking out a cookie from The Cravory. I agreed, and after a full stroll to survey everything the market had to offer, it was time to start spending.
First things first, we were thirsty. We picked up a large horchata and a large lemonade for $5 each to sip on while backtracking through the market. I overheard comments coming from the farmers’ tents that suggested concerns over a slower-than-expected day. The vendor at Tom King Farms announced a sale on all their remaining fruits and vegetables.
I stopped to contemplate how to make mini scotch quail eggs, picking up the delicate orbs, before moving on to a hunt for avocados. This meant going back and forth between tents looking at avocados on several tables in search of the best variety and deal. I stumbled upon a table that had a small selection of what looked like bright green Zutanos. I picked out four for $0.75 each, along with the cutest Oro Blanco grapefruits (a steal at four for a dollar), and a Buddha’s hand ($3.50), from 3 Brothers Farm in El Cajon. It took a collaborative effort between all parties involved in the transaction to add up the total. As I handed over the money, I asked if they had a website, which brought about a hearty round of laughter. “We’re only doing this for fun,” one of the brothers said.
We picked up an essential baguette from Prager Brothers for $4 that would be used to make breakfast sandwiches for the week, and headed back down to the international food block anxious to grab something for lunch. A $2 red velvet Cravory cookie was spotted and selected to be enjoyed later at home, along with fritkots, better known as fries for $4.75 from Belgian Delights.
I opted for the vegetarian bowl with a fried egg for $8.68 from Gogi Blvd (Note to self, ask for kimchi next time). And, last but not least, we picked up a $2 root beer Lick It Lollipop and headed home with $2.07 left in change.
$40 at Hillcrest bought us:
One Large Lemonade and a Horchata: $5 each
One Cravory red velvet cookie: $2
One Buddha’s hand: $3.50
Four Avocados ($0.75 each): $3
Four Oro Blanco grapefruit: $1
Prager Brothers baguette: $4
Belgian French Fries: $4.75
Veg Plate at Gogi Blvd: $8.68
Root Beer Lick It lollipop: $2
*Bring cash, because while many vendors do take cards, merchant service fees can cut into slim profit margins.
*If you can't find parking at the market, they also offer a free trolly shuttle that runs every 10-15 minutes from the free parking lot at the San Diego Unified School District parking lot off Campus Ave and Washington Ave.
*As for what to do with the grapefruits, I think I’ll give this thyme grapefruit beurre blanc from Edible Communities a try.