QCOSTARICA – By Michael Miller. Every Saturday, starting about 7 in the morning, thousands of residents of San José flock to one of the most colorful events in the city. It is the Feria del Agricultor, the Farmer’s Market on Avenida 20.
Here you will see the incredible bounty from the surrounding Costa Rican countryside. The Farmer’s Market has hundreds of stalls with farmer/vendors offering an amazing array of fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, eggs, fish, herbs, coffee, honey, freshly cut flowers . . . and more fruits and vegetables.
At one stall, you might meet Emily, a 13 year-old high-school student from Cartago, a city about 45 minutes east of San José. Her family’s farm is in the cool rainy mountains outside of Cartago, where they grow at least 5 different varieties of eggplant. You will see the traditional Italian-style eggplant, with which we are most familiar. But you will also see a small round variety, and several long slim varieties (some black, some purple and some white) that are favored by Chinese cooks for stir-fry dishes.
At another stall, a lady sells honey, from Acosta de San José, in the rugged highlands, miles south of the capital city. She tells us that her boss takes care of the bees and gathers the honey, while her job is to bring it to market and sell it.
We met a man from Atenas, a popular suburb to the west of San José. He has a farm in the hills outside of Atenas where he raises sheep and goats. Here at the Farmer’s Market, he was selling goat milk, goat cheese and yogurt. The yogurt comes in flavors like peach, mango and strawberry.
You might also meet Blanca, a lady who sells a wonderful variety of fresh herbs: Rosemary, oregano, basil, parsley and more. She tends the herb and vegetable gardens on her family farm, while the men take care of dairy cows and chickens.
You are sure to be impressed with the rich abundance that comes from the fertile Costa Rican countryside. Since Costa Rica has thousands of small family farms, each farmer tries to fill a niche with products that will appeal to the diverse population of San José, and the other major cities in the country.
But beyond that, you will be amazed at the sheer bio-diversity of Costa Rica. This small country has dozens of micro-climates. From the coastal lowlands come tropical fruits like bananas, pineapples and the palm-nuts (called pejibaye) that are a popular snack. A little higher up you will find mangoes, tomatoes, corn and strawberries. In the mountains, farmers grow cool-weather crops like lettuces and leafy greens like spinach and kale. And on the chilliest peaks, even apples are grown.
This amazing cornucopia is all grown within a few hours of Downtown San José.
The Farmer’s Market also boasts several vendors of meats. One of the most interesting is Ronald Rojas, who sells his products from a van which is equipped with a generator to keep the meats chilled. Rojas has a farm outside of Alajuela, not far from the San José International Airport. There he raises and butchers cattle and hogs. He hand-makes a big variety of sausages (including a fresh salami), ham hocks, smoked ribs and other meaty delights.
Even if you are in San José for a short time, and do not have access to a kitchen, the Farmer’s Market is worth a visit. It is several blocks jammed with vibrant colors, lively local music, foods that are familiar and foods that will be new to you.
But the best reason to visit the Farmer’s Market, is for the people. Here you will see a blending of Ticos from the capital city and Ticos from the countryside. It is a slice of Costa Rican life, on display each Saturday morning, that you are not likely to find anywhere else.
The Downtown San José Farmer’s Market is on Avenida 20, between Calle 5 and Calle 11 (Plaza Viquez). From the Pacific Train Station, it is 200 meters east. From the Hospital Clinica Biblica, it is 200 meters south and 100 meters east.
This is all part of The Real San José
Michael Miller is the author of the first and only guide book that focuses on Downtown San José, Costa Rica, titled The Real San José.