Always a festival at San Luis Obispo farmers market

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Rocking Chair Farm

One of the happy vendors from Rocking Chair Ranch in Kingsburg offers passersby a ripe persimmon. Photos: Kristi Garrett

Midweek evenings can be quiet in the downtown shopping corridor of many towns, but that’s certainly not the case in San Luis Obispo on Thursdays. Five blocks of Higuera Street are closed to traffic, allowing crowds of pedestrians to enjoy a thriving farmers market and food vendors galore.

Students from Cal Poly — the nickname of California Polytechnic State University, one of the nation’s premier agricultural schools — help keep the atmosphere lively. On one recent night, a samba band and cheerleaders added to the festival atmosphere.

San Luis Obispo’s Downtown Association organized the Thursday market in 1983 to encourage shoppers to stay and enjoy the shops and restaurants. And stay they do!

At the evening’s peak it can be difficult to weave your way through the throngs, but that just adds to the fun. Visit the produce booths at the upper end of Higuera, and proceed down to Nipomo Street where the famous Santa Maria barbecue is the main event. Whether you’re a meat eater or not, there are plenty of options along Higuera to satisfy anyone’s appetite.

Fruits and vegetables

The market section attracts new and veteran farmers alike, with many vendors representing generations of farming culture.

At the Cal Poly stand I found Zach Nichols, who intends to use his education in the family farm business. His brother, in fact, was down the street representing 2 Peas in a Pod and Mama’s Preserves.

Zach’s colleague, Matt Sluski, is also from the area and plans to pursue pest control for vineyards or fruit orchards in the coastal area.

Up the street, Badasci Family Farms offered up huge whole pomegranates. “It all has to do with how the trees are pruned,” explained Kevin Bodasci as he handed me a taste of pomegranate juice.

After a taste of fuyu persimmon from the friendly folks at Rocking Chair Ranch in Kingsburg, a display of dates from Brown Date Garden in Thermal catches my attention. Gary offers me a Barhi date to sample, which he says they call “creamy caramel.” It’s luscious eating straight from the tree.

At the end of the market section Susie mans the L & C Smith Groves booth with her siblings. The fifth generation of the family now produces dozens of varieties of citrus, stone fruits and avocados at the farm in Exeter, she says.

Plan your visit

If you’re traveling along California’s beautiful central coast on a Thursday, it’s worth a stop at San Luis Obispo’s market. Learn more about planning your visit from the SLO Downtown Association website.

Do you stop to enjoy local farmers markets when you travel? Tell us about your favorite stops in the comments!

Kristi Garrett

Kristi Garrett is the Publisher, Editor and Chief Veggie Enthusiast of Little Green Wheelbarrow. After 16 years in journalism and corporate communications, she figures it's time to get some dirt under her nails.