Santa Monica, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle all have at least one, and now San Luis Obispo County will join the club.
Kendra Aronson, a 2009 Cal Poly alumna with a degree in modern languages, has self-published a farmers’ market cookbook, bursting with recipes and stories that highlight locally grown food and the people who make it.
Aronson worked on “The San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market Cookbook: Simple Seasonal Recipes & Short Stories” for more than two years, conducting interviews, writing, visiting farms, taste testing, food styling, photographing and designing all on her own.
“I fell in love with the market when I went to Cal Poly,” Aronson said. “I thought (the cookbook) would be a great way to celebrate that.”
The cookbook turned out to be a wild success. With help from 418 backers on Kickstarter, it reached about $26,700 in a month — more than twice the original posted goal of $12,000.
At a workshop put on by the Makeshift Society in San Francisco, Aronson said she was encouraged to seek options for self-publishing.
“It was there that I learned the pros and cons of going through a publishing house or doing it yourself,” she said. “Ultimately, it made the most sense to publish myself.”
This was largely because Aronson wanted to maintain control of the cookbook.
“I really wanted it to be my vision,” she said. “I didn’t want to give up creative control. Even though it took longer, it was worth it.”
To gather the recipes and interviews, Aronson frequented farmers’ markets in the county and approached individual vendors and farm-to-table chefs.
Lori Heal, owner of Mama’s Preserves, said Aronson came to her with the idea of incorporating Heal’s jams into the cookbook.
“She’s just like a ray of sunshine,” Heal said. “I just hit it off with her right away.”
The cookbook features 60 recipes, most of which were provided by about 40 different food growers and artisans across the Central Coast. The recipes are organized by season — with 15 recipes per season, which are then subdivided into recipes for breakfast, light bites, lunch, dinner and dessert. The cookbook also includes 40 short stories, interviews and profiles of farmers, food artisans and farm-to-table chefs.
“We have the ability, and really, the honor, to shake the hand that feeds us here on the Central Coast,” Aronson said.
With about 20 weekly farmers’ markets across the county, Aronson emphasized that everyone should be taking advantage of farm-to-table eating options. By doing so, she said San Luis Obispo County can continue to grow a “vibrant food community.”
“They put so much care into their products and we’re lucky enough that we can meet them and support them,” Aronson said.
“It’s very important because right now, it’s very easy to go to a grocery store and pick everything up,” said Julia Gomez, owner of Julia’s Juices. “But where else can you get things as fresh as at a farmers’ market?”
There’s also a prominent interconnectivity between vendors that Aronson found to be particularly important because it enforces a sense of community. Aronson wanted to highlight this through the profiles, interviews and short stories in her cookbook.
Gomez, for example, has a brick-and-mortar juice shop in Grover Beach and is a regular vendor at farmers’ markets. When Aronson approached her about the cookbook over two years ago, she learned that Gomez’s entire family works together to make the business a success.
“My husband grows all the produce, and I’m the one who juices all of our stuff and my kids sell it,” Gomez said. “We grow it, juice it, sell it and everything else goes to our chickens.”
Heal said that agriculture is a family business for her as well. She began working at the markets about 30 years ago with her father, a farmer, and began making jams about 17 years ago.
“I love what I do,” Heal said. “I’m from a berry family … We were one of the first ones to bring blueberries into the (San Luis Obispo County) farmers’ markets.”
Aronson said that interconnectivity reaches far and deep. Vendors at the farmers’ markets make close relationships with the people they sell to, whether they’re for a home or a restaurant.
“You see the same people who have been coming back,” Heal said. “And the relationship you build with people is really rewarding.”
While the project was a lot of fun for Aronson, she’s happy that the cookbook is close to being released.
“I’m just super, super excited for the cookbook,” Aronson said. “I’m really blown away by all of the pre-order sales, and all of the community support and the community excitement.”
Aronson’s cookbooks were available for pre-sale in pledge packages during the Kickstarter campaign, which ended in August. Hopeful buyers will now have to wait until the cookbook’s official release this winter. Find it in local shops and online through Aronson’s website in December.
To learn more about current farmers’ markets going on throughout the county, check out this schedule and plan a visit to one (or more) of the dozens of markets in the area.