Catherine Barr’s speech

Catherine Barr

This is Catherine Barr’s speech presented at the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau National Ag Day Luncheon.

Good Morning…My name is Catherine Barr, most of you know me as Katie, but I also answer to mom, honey and of course, market manager.

Instead of standing up here and boring you with numbers, percentages and figures, I thought I would tell you some stories instead. The numbers will come later.

Most of you don’t know this about me…I grew up in a military family where we were stationed for the most part back east and in the south.

There are two things that stick out in my mind from my early childhood in regards to produce:

If it wasn’t fried…out of a can…or cooked to a green slimy goo, it wasn’t considered a vegetable.

Everyone would love when my grandmother would come visit from California. Not just because grandma was coming to visit, but also because she always packed a LOT! My father would remark, “gee I thought grandma came to visit, not move in with us.”

But we all knew that only one of those three suitcases held clothes. The second suitcase would be loaded with sour dough French bread from Fisherman’s wharf, and Monterey jack cheese. The 3rd suitcase would be filled with artichokes from the central coast. A suitcase full of artichokes may seem like a lot, but for a family of eight, they didn’t last long. Opening those suitcases was better than Christmas.

But the best visits were always in early summer. If my grandmother’s visit was timed just right, she would hand carry onto the plane a shoebox full of Blenheim apricots from her backyard tree picked the day before. I remember wishing my grandmother had bigger feet so the shoe box would be bigger too. To this day, those were some of the best apricots I’ve ever had.

When my father retired from the service we ended up in California. Imagine my delight when we moved to within a stone’s throw away from Castroville, the Artichoke Capitol of the world.

I eventually married into a farming family and saw firsthand the dedication and passion that goes into producing agricultural products for the wholesale market.


Fast-forward several years. And in 1993 I became the market manger for the Monterey Bay CFM. Anyone doing the math that was 17 years ago.

The MBCFM has been around for 34 years. In 1976 it was one of only 12 certified farmers markets in the state. Today there are over 550 farmers markets in California that can call themselves certified.

What is a certified farmers market? It’s a place for the California farmer to sell farm fresh produce that they grow themselves, direct to the public. No middleman involved.

By upholding the integrity of what CFM are, we’re able to insure that the next California farming generation will have a place to support their way of life.

Slow Down

Currently the Monterey Bay cfm at Aptos has 80 California Farm Families. We are beginning to see 2nd and 3rd generations taking over the family farm. About 75% come from the tri-county area, San Benito, Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties. The other 25% come from areas such as San Joaquin, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

One of our biggest jobs, besides growing great produce, is teaching people to eat seasonally and locally. How do we do that?

Well It started with the farmers offering recipe hand outs on items that people may have never tried before like jiccama, okra or fuyu persimmons, a nice looking thing for a table setting but people didn’t know what else to do with them. Persimmons are not just for baking anymore… come to the market in the fall and get a copy of the Minazzolis persimmons salad recipe, add some apples from Watsonville, and you have a fantastic dish for the holidays.

Our market began a “Shop with the Chef” program. We invite a chef from a local restaurant to the market to demonstrate a dish using ingredients they find at the farmers market. They’ll see what is in season and build a recipe from that. Most of the chefs get into the spirit of cooking and become very inventive in what they prepare that day. It’s good for our farmers, it’s good for the local restaurant business and it’s great for our customers to learn how to cook something new.

We also invite cookbook authors to come and talk about their book and offer a recipe or two. Recently author Fran Gage appeared at the market to talk about California olive oil. We have two great olive oil producers right here. Chris Banthian of Valencia Creek Farms and Belle Farm out in Corralitos. Both of these oils are award winning and are really giving imported olive oil a run for its money. Chris started out with 100 of the finest olive trees from Italy and now has expanded to over 2000 olive trees on her farm in Aptos. What’s significant about the olive trees, is Chris and her partner were the first in Santa Cruz county to bring back olive oil production. The last mass production of olive oil was in the 1940’s.

She found a great farming niche.

I like to think of ourselves as the R&D, or the research and development side of agriculture. We try it at the market, you like it, we grow some more.

Here are a few examples. The kiwi fruit was planted in California in the late 60’s early 70’s. This fruit was known as the gooseberry in China, made it’s way to New Zealand and because of our climate in California was brought here. Nobody here really knew what to do with this fruit; grocery stores didn’t want them because they thought people wouldn’t buy them. Do you peel it, do you cook it, eat it raw? Eat the whole thing, what?

The kiwi fruit made it’s way to the farmers market in Southern California. After taste testing and giving out recipes, kiwis are now readily available in California, and consumers recognize them. 4 Sisters Farm in Aromas and Thomas Farm here in Corralitos are some of the local farms that now bring that wonderful kiwi fruit to market. And guess what… you can now buy them at the grocery store.

A lot of the heirloom varieties are making a come back at the markets. We have one farmer, Ronald from Windmill farms. Ronald grew up in Holland, and ended up farming here on the central coast. He grows an heirloom variety of cabbage called Wakefield. Ronald can’t keep it on his table. It’s odd shaped and has an unforgettable flavor that’s great for coleslaw. I’ve had customers come up and say that the heirloom cabbage Ronald grows brings back great childhood memories. Sitting around the table with the family and eating dinner.

Fred, one of our valley farmer who has been with the market for several years, had a new nectarine ready for market called Arctic 2457 something or other.. Can’t remember, and that was the problem customers were getting confused with the different names of fruit.

Fred and his wife Joann brought the nectarine to the market to test it out on our customers. The problem they had with the fruit is it would become spotted and wasn’t very pretty looking. Once you got over the looks of the fruit and tasted what was inside… This nectarine tasted like no other, juice would drip down your arm. How would you know that? By taste testing at the market something you can’t do at the supermarket. Ok so now customers were really getting into this nectarine and Fred and Joann needed to come up with a name that customers would remember and ask for by name. Joann comment “these nectarines are butt ugly”. Thus the ugly nectarine family was born. From ugly ducklings, to ugly step sisters, to the mother of all uglies. These nectarines are now asked for by the ugly name at the farmers market. A simple idea turned into something fantastic for this family famer at the market. Who knows, soon you might find Uglies at the local super market.

I love it when farmers come to me and say, “hey I would like to try growing such and such. I read about it in a seed magazine.

Do you know what I say…go for it.

This is why you can find Apriums a cross between an apricot and plum. Or pluots with names like Flavor Grenade, Flavor Kings, at the market. We now offer cherimoyas, a custardy type fruit out of Ventura county. Mangos are also beginning to come out of Ventura as well.

California has a variety of climates. That fact and the fact that our market draws farmers from these various climates, we are able to extend the season of various commodities such as strawberries and lettuce.

In late spring, early summer, with cherries coming out of the Valley first and Hollister farmers coming in later, it’s cherries galore with names like Utah Giants, Lapis, Jubilee, and Coral. These are only 4 of the 9 varieties of cherries that one of our valley farmers has to offer. Bing cherries are no longer the norm.

Another product that is expanding its horizons…the Watsonville apple. Do you remember going to the grocery store and your only options were red and green apples? If you come out to the market you see varieties like Pink Lady, Jonagold, Black Twig, Zestar. And the pink-fleshed apple called pink pearl. That’s what’s great about the farmers’ market variety, variety, variety

Let me finish by telling you this last story and then I will conclude by asking you to do something for me and yor fellow local farmers.

There was a study done about people eating locally. They took 100 people from all over the US. Maine, California Texas, you get the point. They drew a 100-mile circle around the test subjects home and said ok for one year you can eat anything that is either grown, raised or produced in that 100 mile radius. After 3 weeks 24 people had dropped out of the experiment. Over the remaining year more and more of the test subjects dropped out. After the year was up only three people remained in the experiment. All were from the State of California.

The thing the test subjects missed the most coffee and chocolate. The test subjects said once they got the hang of it and really looked at what they were eating they really got into it.

So the thing I would like you to do for me is one day a week it doesn’t have to be every day like the experiment was, but one day a week. Prepare a meal using local products that you can find in the 100 miles radius of your house. Make a game of it, get the kids involved, write down what you eat, how many products can you get within the 100-mile radius.

For example and it’s not that hard. You can get really inventive. Make a salad using products you get from your local farmers market, Use the olive oil that’s grown here locally, squeeze some lemon juice on the salad. Cut up some greenhouse cucumbers and tomatoes that are grown by the Nagemine family here on Freedom Blvd. And yes we have tomatoes currently at the market that are not from Mexico. Cook some fish that has been caught off Monterey Bay. For dessert, pair some fruit with sheep cheese made in Aromas. Start with one meal a week.

Get the kids involved in this project. Start teaching the next generation to eat locally, seasonally and from California.

I love my job, I love getting up and being at market around 5:30 am on a Saturday, and watching the farm trucks roll in, greetings being called out. The day is beginning, farmers are setting up. You can hear, Italian, Dutch, Vietnamese, Farsi, and several other languages being spoken in our little community within a community. Whether we are organic or, conventional, valley or, coastal farmers, like you we share one thing in common, we are California Farmers.

As farmers we may not always agree with each other, but we respect and support each other.

I invite you come out to the farmers market. Come support a California family famer. Come be a part of our community. I would like you to experience what I feel when I’m out there… and no you don’t have to get out there at 5:30am. 8 o’clock would be just fine.

Get out of your comfort zone and try something new from the market. We would love to see you. To encourage you to come out we have left some farmers market bucks at your table. Please pick up a few and use them the next time you come see us at the Aptos market.

Read more at Santa Cruz County Stories: Catherine Barr: Longtime Watsonville resident is the ‘Queen of Green’ at four area farmers markets ›