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A Tale of Two Farms

The Nuñez and Garcia Families: Organic Farmers of the Pajaro Valley.

In the autumn harvest season, local farmers markets are great places to eat, buy produce and listen to guitar music. Recently I visited the downtown Watsonville Farmers Market and was drawn to a bountiful array of produce featured by two local farms.

Run by Jose Nuñez and his family, Universal Organics’ big produce stand is a familiar sight at farmers markets in the Monterey Bay area. I talked to Jose and Lupe Arellano—also family members—who were working at the stand on Friday. They told me that Jose Nuñez comes from a farming family in Mexico, from the Distrito Federal area. Nuñez began organic farming in this area with his brother about 3 years ago.

The Nuñez family farms 5 acres in Las Lomas, producing a variety of fruits and vegetables. At their stand you will find—not only the familiar greens, squashes and berries of this region—but also vegetables more familiar to Mexican cuisine:

  • papalo (similar to cilantro, often used in tacos)
  • purslane (try it marinated and tossed in salads)
  • yerba santa (its fan-shaped leaves are used in tamales and mole)
  • squash blossoms (try them stuffed with cheese, battered, and fried)
  • tomatillos (small green tomatoes, good for salsas and salads)

Except for the papalo—whose seeds come from Oaxaca—all seeds for the Nuñez farm are local. As I browsed the boxes of produce, Nancy Gammons, herself an organic farmer who also happens to manage Watsonville Farmers’ Market, stopped by.

“I come here for the lettuce, beets and celery,” Gammons said, although she was clearly browsing other items, too. She pointed out another farmstand that she visits, so after making my purchases, I walked down there to check it out.

Jose and Beré Garcia were busy selling their own organic produce at the JGG Farm stand. It was a smaller stand than Universal Organics, but many customers stopped by to purchase heirloom tomatoes and plump, red strawberries. I talked to Lizbeth Piña, the Garcias’ niece. I couldn’t help but notice her turquoise dental braces, which matched her beautiful blue feather earrings. With a big smile, she informed me that “the heirloom tomatoes have so many uses—they are sweet and full of flavor.” I bought half a dozen and later used it to make a tomato salad.

The busy Garcia family also farms 5 acres on Carlton Road in Watsonville. They bring their produce to farmers markets in Watsonville, Westside and downtown Santa Cruz, Live Oak and Felton.

When I wondered outloud where to buy my lunch, Piña enthusiastically told me that I couldn’t go wrong by visiting Comida Mexicana Garcia, another stand managed by her aunt and uncle.

“We’re best known for our gorditas,” she said, but the “pambaso” was also a big favorite.

“Try it!” she urged me,” describing the antojito (snack) as a kind of fried sandwich. “Some people hesitate when they see that it’s fried, but it’s savory—once they try it, they’re hooked."

I walked down to the Garcias’ food stand, where staff were cooking antojitos. Pambaso is a crustless white bread shaped like a pocket. I watched as the bread was dipped in a red pepper sauce, then fried, and filled with ground meat or chorizo mixed with potatoes and pickled carrots, then topped with cotija cheese and sour cream. Can a food be indulgently devilish and also heavenly? This pambaso was both.

The Nuñez and Garcia farms add some palate-pleasing international variety to the farmers market, and are well worth visiting during this harvest season.

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