Farm It Out: SOCO Farmers’ Market
The beauty of living in a city as diverse and eclectic as Costa Mesa is the panoply of pastimes laid before us. From social clubs to health clubs, escape rooms to spring blooms – and everything in between – this town is truly replete with recreation. Lucky us!
The SOCO Farmers’ Market is as much a feast for your senses as it is for your appetite. Live music wafts alongside the earthy nose of fresh produce, punctuated by the sights and scents of good things cookin’ from a medley of local purveyors.
As a California Certified Farmers’ Market, SOCO boasts a variety of direct-to-customer offerings without being too big or too loud. So if you’re overwhelmed by large crowds and unending choices – here’s lookin’ at you, introverts – this will easily become your new favorite farmers’ market.
SOCO draws an assorted mix of families with kids in tow, young couples out for coffee-fueled culinary adventures, locals doing their weekly shop, tourists enjoying samples and sunshine, and the health-conscious contingent with an eye on organics.
It’s All About “Shop Local” – and Samples – at SOCO Farmers’ Market, Saturdays in Costa Mesa
Our gracious guide through the market’s machinations was Onsite Manager – and recent Vanguard University grad – Arielle Lamech. Fresh-faced and friendly, Lamech exudes enthusiasm and a genuine air of caring not just for her vendors and market, but the ‘why’ behind her work.
“I’m big into healthy eating,” said Lamech. “I have a passion for sustainable food systems and how our food choices affect us and everything around us. I got this job as I was about to graduate college – around two-and-a-half years ago – and it’s been great for me. It’s allowed me to connect with a lot of local farmers and learn things I never would have picked up working at, say, a grocery store. Our farmers grow their own and bring it straight to market, so I get to hear the story on the produce as it comes in. It’s great!”
Lamech manages the market for owner, Farmer Mark, whose passion for health, community and local farmers has inspired him to grow five other markets in the greater area. Each one is run by its own onsite manager, like Lamech.
“I was a Cultural Anthropology major in college,” shared Lamech. “So running this farmers’ market is like having my own micro-community to study. Establishing relationships with our vendors – and our regular customers – has been so rewarding. I love it.”
Market Maker: Onsite Manager, Arielle Lamech (Below), Pours Her Heart Into Every Saturday
Lamech works hard to ensure the offerings at the SOCO Farmers’ Market are on brand for both the venue and the visitor base.
“There’s so much variety in Costa Mesa, I definitely think our market should reflect that,” said Lamech. “I love that we have diversity like empanadas, Indian food, and gumbo – so there’s something for everyone. We always make sure our products are from high-quality vendors which is in line with being here at South Coast Collection.
“We also try to keep things fun and creative. So sometimes I’ll do creative workshops or offer different kinds of kids’ activities. We’re very family-oriented and do our best to fit the needs of the city as much as we can.
“Personally, I also think it’s important to be as eco-friendly as possible,” said Lamech. “We don’t even like to have those handled plastic bags. We choose all our vendors with sustainability in mind.”
As we visited the myriad of merchants at SOCO, we got to witness how Lamech’s community-minded model for farmers’ markets unfurled at the vendor level.
People Watching Almost As Delicious As The Food – SOCO Farmers’ Market, Saturdays in Costa Mesa
“Arielle is the best!” said Nelli Bergmann, SOCO vendor and owner of Matterhorn Gourmet Granola. “She sets an awesome tone. My favorite thing about the Costa Mesa market is the people. It’s got really nice vendors from all different countries. We have great food and there’s always, always music.”
Bergmann’s found a healthy following for her gluten-free, vegan, low-sugar granola at the SOCO Farmers’ Market.
“I started making granola because I was so frustrated with what was available in stores,” she said. “Too sugary, too full of canola oil or whatever; just unhealthy. I was already cooking from scratch all the time for my family, so I came up with my own granola recipes – some with nuts and some without.
“People really liked it and I thought to myself, ‘Hey, I might be onto something.’ Now I have my regulars who come out, every week, to get their granola from me. I would love for your readers to come out and try it, too. I’m here every Saturday with samples.”
Sujata, owner of Seven Happy Seeds, is another of the merry merchants you’ll find at SOCO on Saturday. For the past few months she’s been bringing home-cooked, Indian meals – like tikka masala, basmati pilaf and onion salad – to share with market-goers.
“The secret to great Indian food is totally in the spices,” said Sujata. “Growing up, my mom used to make her own spice blends and her food always tasted excellent – simple, but excellent.
“So, inspired by her recipes, I developed hand-crafted spice blends that take the guesswork out of Indian food. Spicing the food properly is the most complex part of any Indian recipe, the rest is pretty straightforward.”
Salubrious Snacks At SOCO: Gluten-Free, Low-Sugar Granola (Above) And Fresh Almonds (Below)
Once you’ve sampled to your appetite’s content, peruse the the other parts of the market, like the array of unique bonsai cactuses and succulents courtesy of the “Fat Plant” Man.
Owner, Clifford Meng, is a caudiciform-hobbyist turned business-owner who uses the proceeds to fuel his horticulture addiction.
“Caudiciform is the scientific term for ‘fat plants,’ which get the name because of their swollen appearance,” said Meng. “I started growing them as a hobby sometime in the mid-eighties. But my collection kept growing and pretty soon the succulents were taking over my life. I became hopelessly addicted.”
Meng’s wife insisted that if he was going to keep spending time and money on the plants, he’d have to find a revenue stream to support the habit.
“So I joined a local club and started selling my plants there,” said Meng. “Now it’s grown to the point I sell my plants at four different farmers’ markets on a regular basis. This market here is one of my favorites. It’s very good. We have a ball on Saturdays. Everyone is very nice and it’s just a great way to spend your weekends.”
Crazy For Caudiciforms: The “Fat Plant” Man And His Drought-Tolerant Display at SOCO Farmers’ Market
Even with so much existing variety at SOCO, Lamech is in the market for new vendors to round out the roster.
“We do have room for more, but we’re picky about who we choose,” said Lamech. “We’ve got a ‘farmers first’ model which tries to be very respectful of our growers. We also want equality with the types of products we offer, so we avoid having conflicting brands as much as possible.”
Prospective vendors can reach out to become a Farmer Mark merchant via this online inquiry form, with one caveat.
“We won’t take anybody that is overtly political,” said Lamech. “We are a place for all kinds of people to gather, so we won’t take a political stand at this market.”
But she does welcome feedback from market-goers as to what they’d like to see at the market in the future.
“We definitely want to hear from our neighbors,” added Lamech. “We want to get Costa Mesans involved as much as we can. I’m always reaching out to different organizations around here. I want the locals. I want this to be their market. I want to connect with people in the community and then help those people feel more connected to their city as a whole.”
On Saturday mornings, you can find Lamech at the red information booth, onsite.
“I’m always here, unless something goes wrong,” she said with a laugh. “Then I’m the one running around the market like a crazy person.”
Costa Mesan, Linda Flores (Right), Brings The Heat With Salsas And Guac At SOCO Farmers’ Market
As we were leaving the market, we bumped into South Coast Metro resident – and salsa vendor – Linda Flores. She had a fun personality almost as spicy as her wares, and a message for her fellow Costa Mesans.
“Before I started helping out my friend with her salsa business, I never came down here,” said Flores with a wave of her hand from behind the Acapulco Pico Salsa stand. “I even live soooo close that if I weren’t so lazy, I could totally walk or bike down here. Still, I never came.
“I would always drive by and see the market on Saturdays, so I knew it was here. But I honestly never woke up early enough to motivate to attend.
“But now that I’m down here, I can’t believe how great it is. I was totally missing out! The music, the food, the local vibes – everyone needs to get out of bed and come check it out. Do your shopping with us and support some great, Orange County people.
“Come on, Costa Mesans! Get up. Get out. Try some healthy, all-natural food. We’re doing a good thing here. So stop looking at us every time you drive by to get on the freeway. Get off the freeway and come be a part of this.” ♥
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