Specialty Produce Farmers’ Market Program
Specialty Produce started in 1977 as a store front on Pearl St called La Jolla Produce. At that time, the landscape of San Diego was much different than it is today. All the outskirts, North, South, and East county, were mostly farmland. The idea of filling a store with all locally grown produce wasn’t just a dream, it was a reality. Although the landscape of San Diego has changed, our desire to sell the best tasting produce and support local farmers while doing it, has not. When Bob, Richard, and Roger Harrington made the decision to close the retail store in La Jolla and start their first wholesale warehouse off Lovelock St. in 1989, they took the philosophy of supporting local farmers with them.
For over 30 years, Specialty Produce has cultivated lasting relationships with farmers throughout California. The best source we’ve found for finding these farms is through local farmers’ markets. What began as an experiment 10 years ago, has grown into San Diego’s top program for bringing the best tasting produce from all of California’s growing regions straight to San Diego’s chefs. Today, Nathan Bochler, our farmers’ market buyer, has forged relationships with over 50 small farmers from throughout California.
Bochler visits multiple markets in San Diego county and two markets in Los Angeles throughout the week. The largest market he visits is the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays each week. As California’s largest farmers’ market, working with farmers at this market just made sense. The Harrington’s discovered early on when building our wholesale business in San Diego that a lot of the best growers brought their product to Los Angeles, but not to San Diego. By visiting this market on a biweekly basis, Nathan is able to buy the best tasting produce he can find from all of California’s growing regions. This allows Specialty Produce to offer a very diverse product list of California produce to our restaurants.
As the culinary scene is San Diego has transformed, Specialty Produce has seen an increase in the Chefs and ultimately, the restaurant patrons who value quality and sustainability over price and convenience. This shift has really grown the success of the Farmers’ Market Program. Two years ago, Nathan and Bob decided to take a chance and create a mobile farmers’ market. Our experiment started with one small van and a couple of chefs who knew they wanted to build their menus from more local produce, but just couldn’t get to their local market.
Our mobile farmers’ market now has 5 dedicated routes with over 30 restaurants within San Diego, and a waiting list to get on a route. Our route drivers actually unload farm fresh produce at the back door of restaurants and the chefs can try and buy right off the truck. Specialty Produce is doing 5 times the Farmers Market business it was just two years ago. That means over half a million dollars in the pockets of California’s small farmers a year.
Nathan Bochler has really become a personal shopper for a lot of San Diego’s top chefs. As a chef, the dream is to wake up early on Friday and go to the market to build your weekend menu. However, this isn’t always the reality. Hours are long and days are hard when you’re a working chef. Nathan spends his days building a dialog between the chefs and farmers, hand-picking items he thinks his chef’s will want. With 10 years as a chef under his belt and a lifetime of foraging, Nathan has a real understanding of what Chefs are looking for. This knowledge has helped him build a trust between himself, the farmers, and the chefs, creating a symbiotic relationship that really drives culinary creativity within San Diego and crop creativity at the farms.
Specialty Produce’s Farmers’ Market Program doesn’t just stop at the backdoor of restaurants. Our Farmers’ Market Box program allows the public to buy this same local produce for $20 a week. This market box comes with 10 to 12 farmers’ market items and includes recipes written by one of San Diego’s top food authors and bloggers, Diane Phillips.
As San Diego’s largest wholesale produce company, we are committed to provided the best quality produce we can find to our customers. Our farmers’ market program is our best way of doing this. Whether it is found in our warehouse, unloaded off the mobile farmers’ market, or hand selected for your Farmers’ Market box, you can be confident it is the best California has to offer.