For the most part, bargain hunting with the food dollar requires a car and a good map of the far reaches of the county. The numerous small markets—from the Mom and Pop stores to the 7-11 s — always seem to cost the shopper more than the large supermarkets. And one intimate experience with a food co-op was enough for this sadder but wiser consumer. There was just something about volunteering 21 hours a week as a treasurer-secretary-procurer-janitor while my cohorts sat around and talked about how much fun co-ops were.
The best way to safeguard your wallet from the cheerful clerks at Safeway is to grow your own. But many consumers are garden-less, so I’ve listed alternatives for those who are willing to go out and get the food bargains. The prices in the surrounding county arc well worth the time and gasoline.
I've covered two alternative routes for you to consider: going directly to the growers or to roadside fruit and vegetable stands. The first alternative involves purchasing a grower's surplus crop or harvesting the foodstuff directly from the field. The roadside stands are fun to shop in; there's never a cellophane wrapper around the fruits; and the foods are displayed in an open and human setting which closely resembles the way Europeans buy their food.
This summer a three-month pilot project, which ended September 20. was set up specifically to put California consumers in touch with local growers. The program, under the state Food and Agricultural Department, has been a success and will probably be repeated next year. Only three San Diego County growers were listed on this registry; yet all three reported a marked increase in sales. The lack of San Diego growers was due to the meager food crops this year, according to a Department of Agriculture spokesman.
Roberts Orchard, on Highway 76 in Pauma Valley, is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Spokeswoman Lillian Brown conceded that an afternoon drive all the way to Palomar Mountain would not be a smart way to save money on the purchase of a few Valencia oranges, but “we’re selling them for $3.50 for 50-pound boxes and if you're traveling through the North County, then it's well worth the stop. We’ve picked the oranges, and all you have to do is put them in the car.”
Pankey Farm, at Interstate 15 and Highway 76 in Fallbrook. is the only truly pick-it-yourself farm listed on the state project. A spokesman for Vic Pankey indicated that a lot of their customers were young people who were just getting into home canning. Tomatoes were especially popular since they're selling for 20c a pound on a pick-it-yourself basis. The Pankey Farm grows a variety, and they seem to undersell the corner conglomerate on every item from lima beans to avocados to corn.
Ohlson Farm, in El Cajon, was listed in the state program, but by the end of August all of Edith Ohlson’s crops had been harvested and sold. Her land is given over almost exclusively to fig trees, and she was selling the fruit at 25c a pound.
Two other San Diego growers have devoted their land to nothing but strawberries. The strawberry season is now over, but both growers will have new crops next Spring. If you’ve ever tasted real strawberries, the kind that are hand-picked after ripening in the sun. then you know it's worth the wait. Curiously, both strawberry growers charge the same price 30c a pound — but then, they're neighbors and friends.
Matsumoto Farm, at 15562 El Monte Road. Lakeside, ships much of its strawberry harvest to Los Angeles and San Diego produce wholesalers. However, they've set aside five acres for anyone who’d like to pick and save.
Max Robbins, at 12150 Marina Boulevard, Lakeside, has been letting people come onto his land for two years. He’s kept aside an area of older, sturdier plants so that children, can safely pick a few of the red berries themselves. It’s a good idea, for many children never get to see a farm crop, much less pick one of Southern California’s tastiest desserts.
Fruit and vegetable stands buy farm produce from growers and then sell to the public. Consumers save an average of 20 percent or so when the food prices are compared to the supermarkets; however, oftentimes the savings is even greater. The produce markets are able to cut down a lot of overhead by selling food out of the packing crate and by not advertising. If you really want to “like the total better,” avoid the stores that unload a huge advertising budget on the customers.
Within the last year, eight produce markets have closed in the county; those that have survived so far are in pretty good shape, supply-wise.
Dickey Organic Farm, at 803 Ada, Chula Vista, sells to both wholesalers and local health food stores. The remainder of the crop is sold to the public in the Dickey produce stand. They're now selling organically-grown canning tomatoes at $3.00 for a 30-pound flat. Whenever they've tried to let people onto their farm on a pick-it-yourself basis, they've had bad luck; the plants were damaged.
Avocado’s Table-Ready, at 778 East Chase Avenue. El Cajon, sells more than just avocados. But. as the name implies, the avocado’s their speciality and sells for $18.50 for a 25-pound box (and that’s a lot of guacamole). Also. 40-pound boxes of Valencia oranges are now on sale for $6.75.
Other produce markets which are open seven days a week and welcome telephone price inquiries are:
Best Produce, 3112 Beyer, San Diego.
Country Boy Produce. 3450 Bonita Road, Chula Vista.
Davila Produce. 3089 Main. Chula Vista.
Freshies Valley Farm. 2503 Sweetwater Road, National City.
Harborside Ranch Mart, 1105 Broadway, Chula Vista.
La Cresta Farm Produce Market, 1473 East Main. El Cajon.
Little Eden Produce, 1177 Sweetwater Road, Spring Valley.
Lucky Farms Produce, 1710 San Altos Place, Lemon Grove.
Martinez Produce, 1485 Broadway. Chula Vista.
Paul and Sons Produce, 1716 Broadway, Chula Vista.
Takahashi Farms, 2615 Sweetwater Springs, Spring Valley.
Tony's Produce, 10366 Mission Gorge Road. Santee, and Windmill Farm, at College Avenue and University Avenue, sell a complete line of organically-grown foods. Tony 's Produce is cheaper—a 38-pound box of apples sells for $6.50—but then, Santee's overhead has got to be less than the San Diego State area.
All of the above markets feature a price scale which fluctuates rapidly depending on the old “supply and demand” curves you learned about in Economics 1-A. Country Boy Produce, in Chula Vista, and Lucky F'arms Produce, Lemon Grove, are now selling tomatoes for as cheap as I Oca pound. Davila Produce and Paul and Sons Produce, both in Chula Vista, are selling onions for under 10c a pound. And Best Produce, in San Diego, is selling red apples for 25c a pound and green apples for 19c a pound. These quoted prices are not just “teasers” either; once you visit any produce stand, you realize that all the other foods are sold at correspondingly low prices. Admittedly, you'll lose some variety; there are no Twinkies or Cracker Jacks at the produce markets. But the nutrition is available at a fairly cheap price.
Two wholesale markets get most of the coop customers. Generally, these markets ask the co-ops to come by later in the morning or early afternoon. This is done in order to fill the large institutional orders in the early morning hours. Two other wholesale spokesmen laughed when asked about afternoon customers in a wholesale market. One said, “Yeah, the hippies and housewives come around in the afternoon and buy the junk. What I can't sell to the real buyers. I’ll unload onto the kids.”
The two wholesalers who are really happy to sell to co-ops (albeit, in late morning and afternoon hours) are Moceri Produce, 5255 Lovelock. San Diego, and David Produce Co., Inc.. 416 6th Street, San Diego.