Plus, where to find local farmers markets and what to try. 

Samples of fresh fruit are always a draw at local farmers markets. (Photo by Michelle Le)

San Mateo County farmers markets offer shoppers an abundance of locally produced agricultural items like fruits, vegetables, honey, eggs, and fresh and prepared foods. While the year-round markets provide shoppers with a weekly opportunity to shop fresh and local, the seasonal markets that often appear during weekdays give shoppers an additional opportunity to pick up fresh cherries, shelling peas, and a must-have fruit pie or gluten-free dessert.

From early April through early December, seasonal markets keep our produce bins full and our culinary creativity on high alert as we sift through the region’s edible bounty. But do we really need all these markets? It depends on who you talk to. Restaurants who pay rent in commercial corridors have mixed reactions to the seasonal markets that directly compete with them, yet these weekday markets do drive foot traffic to business districts. The goal of the seasonal market is to provide additional opportunities for both the shopper to procure and the farmer to sell when crops are at their peak.

Market operators confirm that there’s a different shopper on the weekend versus the weekday. “There’s a big difference between the two markets and the shoppers they attract,” says Erin Tormey, who operates seasonal markets in Pacifica on Wednesday afternoons and in Half Moon Bay on Saturday mornings under the Coastside Farmers’ Markets umbrella. “The weekend shoppers have the opportunity to toodle around and explore, and the weekday market is a great opportunity for people to stop by after they pick the kids up from school and use the market as part of their weekday meal planning. Our Wednesday market is also popular with local chefs who shop for the weekend.”

The density of markets in the county, from spring through fall, is an embarrassment of riches, but as long as there’s demand, the markets will continue to open and provide a place for residents to shop and build community. Tormey says organizations like hers, as well as the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association and the California Farmers’ Market Association, have to juggle requests with feasibility and availability of farmers. 

Seasonal markets in San Mateo County are often held during the week and attract parents on their way home from work or after school pickup, as well as chefs stocking up for the weekend. (Photo by Michelle Le)

“There are plenty of places to have a farmers market, but there aren’t enough farmers,” she says. “There are approximately 3,600 certified farmers in the state of California, and it costs about $55,000 for a farmer to take on a new market (insurance, permits, vehicle, etc.), so often cities will get a market going, but they won’t thrive due to saturation or lack of vendors.”

The reality is that a farmers market is just like any other commercial enterprise, and it takes both parties — market managers and shoppers — to mobilize in order for them to thrive. Dimitri Hagnéré, market manager at San Mateo’s 25th Avenue seasonal market, loves how the midweek market caters to both working families looking for a quick dinner and neighbors who use the market as a place to gather and connect. 

“We’re a small neighborhood market that caters to the families that live in the area,” Hagnéré says. “During the summer, the kids come out for the shaved ice and parents mingle and shop.”

Hagnéré says the pandemic affected not only his seasonal market, but also the year-round markets that the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association manages. “Many people were, and still are, more comfortable shopping outdoors, and the markets were that safe place,” he says.

Interest in selling at his market also peaked during the pandemic. “We saw a huge increase in interest, between people losing their jobs or choosing to follow a new path, because it’s such a great opportunity for small makers to test the waters. There’s low overhead compared to the cost of establishing yourself at a brick-and-mortar business,” Hagnéré says.

East Palo Alto’s farmers market doesn’t charge stall fees, so its primary goal is to work as a food access point for the underserved. (Photo courtesy Fresh Approach)

The county isn’t immune to food insecurity, and market organizers work hard at educating shoppers on the available resources for those who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Many markets offer the state’s Market Match program, where federal benefits are matched dollar for dollar on money spent on fresh produce. Tormey’s markets participated in the pilot in 2009, and she was instrumental in getting the initiative off the ground. 

“The great thing is that it benefits both the participant and the farmer,” Tormey says. Unfortunately, the federal income level doesn’t quite correlate with the county’s high cost of living and higher minimum wage, so many who need the program don’t qualify. Tormey counters such barriers to the program by offering a $5 match (or more depending on their household size) at her markets, which are funded by local donations. “Between those two programs, our two markets were able to contribute $40,000 worth of food last year, which translates to an additional $80,000 in sales to our farmers,” she says.

Isabel Medina, South Bay food access program manager for Fresh Approach, oversees East Palo Alto’s seasonal market that resumed this month. This market makes a point to cater to the EPA community, though everyone is welcome. The small market supports three agriculture producers who have been with them since its inception in 2007. “These farmers are dedicated to our mission, and we’re lucky to have them. They’ve been with us so long that they respond to the needs of the community and grow items that are requested,” Medina says. A few times during the market season, Medina and her team organize pop-up events during market days for EPA makers to showcase their wares and says, “It’s a great opportunity for them to see if a spot at the market is viable.”

East Palo Alto’s market operates through grants and other funding channels and doesn’t charge stall fees, so the market’s primary goal is to work as a food access point for the underserved. 

“Shopping at the market directly supports the farmers and makers who appear, which in turn supports the shoppers that use the Market Match program,” Medina says. “We try to make the experience fun and wholesome for everyone that comes out.”

Peninsula farmers markets offer shoppers an abundance of locally produced agricultural items and fresh and prepared foods. (Photo by Magali Gauthier)

Seasonal and year-round farmers markets in San Mateo County:

Menlo Park: Year-round

Sundays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Chestnut Street between Santa Cruz Avenue and Menlo Avenue

What to look for: peppers from Happy Quail Farms, apricots from Pulido Farms, and lavender products from Cache Creek.

Millbrae: Year-round

Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

200 block of Broadway

What to look for: sweets from Ube Galore Bread & More, bamboo stalks, live seafood from Ocean Empire, Inc.

College of San Mateo: Year-round

Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

1700 West Hillsdale Blvd.

What to look for: challah from As Kneaded Bakery, Kalamata Za’atar fougasse from Bernal Bakery, mushrooms from Far West Fungi.

Burlingame: Year-round and seasonal

Sundays, 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.; Thursdays, 3 to 7 p.m. May-October

Park Road at Burlingame Avenue

What to look for: blueberries from Triple Delight, naturally preserved roses from J. Carruthers Floral, and cold-brew coffee from Daybreak Vietnamese Coffee.

Seasonal farmers markets in San Mateo County start in April and can go until early December. (Photo by Michelle Le)

Belmont: Year-round

Sundays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

1201 El Camino Real

What to look for: Japanese-style bread from Kuroneko Bakery, eggs from Stueve Family Farms, and frozen bao from Bunbao.

Daly City: Year-round

Sundays and Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

133 Serramonte Center

What to look for: succulents from Kaprielian Growers, pasture-raised beef from Pomponio Ranch, and fish and seafood from Mission Fish.

25th Ave San Mateo.: Seasonal

Tuesdays, 3 to 7 p.m. (May 3-Oct. 25)

194 W 25th Ave.

What to look for: baked goods from Little Sky Bakery, Dim Sum from Wokitchen, and empanadas from Empanada King.

Pacifica: Seasonal

Wednesdays, 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. (April 6-Dec. 21)

400 Old County Road

What to look for: Coastside Kraut from Slow Brine, fresh green juice from The Fruit Tree, artichokes and favas from Giusti Farms.

Half Moon Bay: Seasonal

Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (April 2-Dec. 17)

225 Cabrillo Highway

What to look for: fresh baguettes from Rosalind Bakery, local honey from Half Moon Honey, and potted fresh culinary herbs and strawberry plant starts from Fog Thyme.

East Palo Alto: Seasonal

Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (April 13-Nov. 16)

2555 Pulgas Ave.

What to look for: okra, collards, peppers, seasonal fruits, honey, hummus, and dim sum.

Mushrooms for sale from Far West Fungi. (Photo by Magali Gauthier)

Brisbane: Seasonal

Thursdays, 3 to 7 p.m. (April-November)

11 Old County Road

What to look for: tea-infused ice cream from Jolly’s.

Foster City: Year-round

Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

1010 Metro Center Blvd.

What to look for: home and personal care products for refillable containers from Before 1907 and cream cheese-topped ice tea from Tiny Tea Co.

Portola Valley: Year-round

Thursdays, 2 to 6 p.m.

765 Portola Road

What to look for: fresh garden flowers from Javier Organic-Grown Flowers, melons and figs from Gauchito Hill Farms, dairy from Alexandre Farms.

Pescadero: Seasonal

Thursdays, 2 to 6 p.m. (June 2-Sept. 29)

251 Stage Road

What to look for: seasonal produce from Simms Organics and Fly Girl Farm, natural soaps and candles from Coastside Homegoods, and beef from Leftcoast Grassfed.

Redwood City: Seasonal

Saturdays, 8 a.m. to noon (April 9-November)

500 block of Arguello Blvd.

What to look for: toffee from Nana’s Kettle, cinnamon rolls from Made out of Dough, and stone fruit from Sweet Tree Farms.

San Carlos: Year-round

Sundays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Laurel Street (between Cherry Avenue and San Carlos Avenue)

What to look for: spice-infused cold brew with oat milk from Bliss on Tap, German-style pretzels from Teufel Bread, and haskap berry concentrate from Sweet Prairie.

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