Fresno State senior Robert Mendez (middle) and Fresno State junior Ariana Willingham (right) get a sample of Thompson grapes from Joshua Kisbye of Schletewitz Family Farms from Sanger, Calif. along with Fresno State senior Amanda Ellis (left).
The River Park Farmers Market began as a way to bring people to the area at a time when little but the cinema was standing. Fifteen years later, Peter DeYoung, River Park Farmers Market founder and owner, said the market has taken on a life of its own.
“We have everything from local honeys to local grass-fed beef. We have artisan foods. We have food trucks,” DeYoung said. “There’s a vibe out here in River Park that is hard to put your finger on.”
DeYoung said that vibe was born out of a need to bring people to the area and has steadily progressed into a natural partnership between The Shops at River Park, growers and several communities in Fresno.
“It’s all over. There’s so many awesome vendors that are here,” DeYoung said. “We have fresh-squeezed orange juice, local honeys and herbs.
“At our last count, there were over 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables at any given time in the market.”
DeYoung said he attributes this variety to the market’s commitment to become the best farmers market in Central California. He said it always has a wide array of vendors: from tapioca-based smoothie booths to gourmet beef jerky and even fried miniature donuts.
“They [the miniature donuts] are about 1 ½ to 2 inches of sinful goodness, kind of in the style of Krispy Kreme, but they’re a cake donut,” DeYoung said.
Another quality DeYoung said makes the market appealing is local artisans.
“We have photographers. We have painters. We have glass artists,” DeYoung said. “We have hand-crafted jewelry— that’s a big one.”
Along with having either live or recorded music playing, DeYoung said he believes the market’s main attraction is its many varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables picked at their ripest.
“Not only are you dealing with the grower that grew it, but it was picked this morning,” DeYoung said. “When you buy here, you’re buying it ready to eat and at its freshest.
“You cannot go anywhere else and buy more fresh, more delicious fruit than at a good farmers market.”
Orchard owner Vonnie Cary is in her fourth year participating in the River Park Farmer’s Market with son Matthew, a beekeeper. She sells fresh orange juice from her orange grove in Lindsay. Her son sells honey and beeswax from his beehives.
“Right now with the orange juice, we’re doing Valencias, and then in the wintertime, we juice our Navel oranges,” Cary said. “Most of our juice was either squeezed the day before or the morning of.”
Jim Garber of Sumner Peck Ranch said he has sold his produce at the market for seven to eight years. He said his fruit is picked either the day of or the day before he sells it.
“You can’t do it all the same day. It’s pretty hard with all the different stuff we have,” Garber said.
Pointed out by DeYoung, Garber said the pluot, a mix between a plum and an apricot, is something people always find unique.
“One thing is people are intrigued by just the name and the mix,” Garber said. “They’re good.
Fresno State animal science major Ashley Vieira said she comes to the farmer’s market for the fruit: strawberries, plums, pears and pluots.
“Their fruit is amazing. Everything’s amazing, and it’s cheap and fresh,” Vieira said.
Since she just moved back for the start of the school year, Vieira said she used to come to the market every week with her roommate.
“It’s just cozy, and everyone’s friendly,” Vieira said.
The feeling Vieira has is something DeYoung said he hopes to continue.
“Every week there’s something different,” DeYoung said. “We have jugglers. We have clowns. We have balloon artists, face painters.
“There’s something for everyone in the family out here, and that’s not by accident. That’s planned.”
The River Park Farmers Market runs every Tuesday through October from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. A complete list of Fresno’s farmer’s markets can be found at playfresno.org/events.