The local farmers' market, the 'ferria', happens every Saturday, rain or shine. The market itself is less than 5 years old and is now at its strongest: the last 3 weeks have seen a couple of new stalls and a few more tables have been put out just in case. Still it's a very small affair with no more than 15 stall holders. It's in the center of town, not so difficult as town is basically 3 streets, and sits under a large awning on a concrete pad. There's a noni tree at one end and wild amaranth grows along one side. The 'ferria' sits between the wooden 'casa de cultura' and a squat concrete cube which acts as overspill for high school classes. They were the ones who painted the big colourful reggae themed mural which serves as backdrop to half the stalls.
I'd like to take you on a tour. Starting on the right as you enter is Miguel, the cheeseman. Miguel has 70 cows on his farm and every week comes with three giant coolers filled with his traditional Cost Rican cheeses. Tico cheese is a bit like mozarella, it's not strongly flavoured, but Miguel makes the best I've tasted (I was a lover of Stiltons, blues and sharp cheddars). He makes a smoked which is delicious fried; a soft ricotta like cheese; a little sharper powdered parmesan type; and two mozarella style cheeses, one with more salt. The cheeses come in great slabs and he has a way with a great long knife. He always offers thick samples and is more than willing to give you more than what you ask for, though he'll cut some off, (and lower the price again) if you insist. Miguel is a charmer, he always has a ready laugh and a twinkle in his incredibly blue eyes. To almost every comment he adds "pura vida" or "solo bueno". On top of his counter he has recycled soda bottles full of yogurt, buttermilk and fresh milk. The fresh milk and buttermilk are raw and delicious.
Pushing past the crowds which always surround his stall, you will find the Finca la Isla stall. That's us. There you can sample cookies and granola bars, dried fruits and jams, kombucha, fresh fruit and whatever else we've prepared for the market. You can also buy ornamental plants, EM, or just chat about your garden or get advice on grasshoppers or pruning or whatever may be happening to your yard (or your dogs).
Next stall is Tristan's and Alejandra's. Tristan is French and Alie is Tica and they have a small organic farm just outside town. They sell some produce from their land, but mostly they sell organic produce from the higher altitude central valley. That's where to go if you want organic carrots, or broccoli, or onion, spinach, potatoes, or celery. All the vegetables that won't grow for us here in this climate.
By Tristan is Karla, a local girl who sells homemade beauty products. Kio offers wonderful scents and textures with blends of coconut and cacao, ylang ylang and cinnamon. The stall is very pretty and there's always someone there dabbing on a little perfume and asking questions on natural cosmetics.
You can drink your organic coffee and snack on home made organic chocolate right next door at Caribeans. Paul has a store in town and alongside his coffee and chocolate products he carries local macadamia nuts, Kio products and our jams, chutneys, candied ginger and dried fruit. He also manages the local ice-cream store for Mighty Rivers. Brilliant ice-cream from all natural cows and ingredients, straight from the farm. More often than not you'll find dollops of cream in your ice-cream - exactly as it should be.
Next to Paul is 'tofu Dave', a Japanese Canadian who moved down here a few years ago and makes his living making tofu to sell to local restaurants and at the market. Dave and his dog, tofu (what else?), are very mellow individuals, just like their tofu.
Ernesto the Cuban sells his homemade noni juice right beside Dave's tofu. The noni juice is made in an old twin tub washing machine and it's strong, strong stuff!
Beside him is the egg lady, Noiti, and her husband Timo. Noiti is as round and plump as a mother hen and her short curly hair could be mistake for the feathers of a frizzle. She brings hundreds of eggs to market and always has a good few fat chickens for sale as well. She's the boss of the duo and Timo who clearly thinks the world of her is at her beck and call. Timo cuts trees when he's not working for his wife. He has a pair of oxen to pull lumber out of difficult places. It's pleasure to see him work with his bulls and a marvel to watch him predict exactly how a tree will fall, and be right.
Throughout the market you will hear Noiti and Timo laughing with don Lorenzo. Lorenzo is an indigenous Bribri who's family has a small farm growing cacao. His wife Petronela makes the best chocolate around here, flavoured with black pepper, nutmeg and the more usual flavours. They also make cacao butter, banana vinegar and noni juice which they sell at the market, and produce for various Jungle Spa beauty treatments. I recommend the chocolate scrub!
We'll move more quickly now through the vegetable and produce stands. I'm not sure why most of the non produce stands are on one side, strange.
The mango man, don Jose brings down produce from the central valley. He's not organic, but he is very friendly and will try to make a deal. Especially if you happen to be Crystal who has the next stall. Crystal and Silvio are a lovely young couple who make bread: turmeric, beer and chocolate-coffee bread. All good. Especially with a slice of Miguel's cheese and a spread of our mango chutney. They are expecting their first baby, a girl, who'll be named Agatha. She's due in August. Crystal's pregnancy has created a strong desire for garlic. She will stand at our stall eating kimchi straight from the jar, finishing by the end of market. Silvio is always the first stallholder to sell out. He's the ferria's barometer: you can tell how well the market is by what he's got left by 8:30.
Around the corner from Silvio and Crystal is don Lorenzo's son-in-law, Jerardo. Jerardo sells wooden masks, sculptures and beaded jewelry he carves himself. He's always smiling and joking with his neighbours. We sell some of his pieces at the botanical garden, and have a piece or two of his at home.
Beside him are Gonzalo and his beautiful wife Maricia. They are indigenous and have a small farm up in the hills. They bring whatever they have whether it be maize, pumpkin, platanos, bananas, limes, oranges, edible flowers, grapefruit, coconut or even talapia. Alonzo and Maricia are bahai and are just shining people, full of love for each other and the world. It makes me happy just to meet their eye across the market.
Only 3 stalls left. And all produce: Joel, dona Luz and Negra. Dona Luz lives up in Carbon, a farming community back in the hills. She will bring produce from all of her neighbours and most of it is organic. She also makes excellent tortillas and tamales, a great snack for market goers.
Last but not least is our newest arrival, and who's name I don't quite have yet, is a masseuse who works with a massage chair. He'll work 15 minutes for 3000 colones, and it looks great, if the very relaxed and smiley clients are anything to go by.
So there you have it, a rather long (sorry) tour of the characters who make Saturdays the highlight of my week! And the customers? Well that's for another post . . .