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Produce market highlights local agriculture

On Thursday afternoon, Christine Kidwiler of Merced was browsing an aisle of produce.

She and her two sons, Tucker, 9, and Nathan, 3, thumped watermelons, inspected flats of eggs and put a container of butter lettuce and a seedless watermelon in their basket.

Kidwiler wasn’t at a grocery store, buying produce that had been shipped in from all over the world. She was at Applegate Produce Market, where almonds, peaches, eggs and honey had traveled only a few miles to be sold.

Luis Rivera and his daughter, Jennifer, both of Atwater, opened the market, which sells mostly locally grown produce, about four months ago. After growing fruit, nuts and vegetables for years, Jennifer convinced her dad that selling fruit through their own market would work.

“There weren’t any other fruit stands in the area,” Jennifer Rivera recalled.

Luis said that he tries to sell as much local produce as possible, and a look around the market confirmed the local origins of most of the items for sale.

Sweet potatoes were from Livingston, and local eggs are sold by the flat, 30 eggs to a flat. Both seedless and seeded watermelons come from across the street and are picked ripe every three days.

Right next to the store, vegetables destined for the market are now getting a toehold. The honey comes from the county, and the butter lettuce is grown in Le Grand.

The Riveras themselves grow a lot of the produce they sell themselves, but what they don’t grow comes from local growers.Students at Modesto Junior College, in the ag production area, grow stone fruit trees. Mike Morales, an ag instructor at the college, said a lot of the fruit goes to Atwater.

“We have this class every other year, and the students do everything from choosing the variety of tree to harvesting,” Morales said. “We sell the fruit here on the campus, but a lot of it goes to the market.”

Luis Rivera urged people to buy local to support growers, especially the smaller ones.

“It may not be as good-looking, packed as pretty, but it’s ripe and it’s got good flavor,” Rivera said.

The market sells what’s in season, and will gradually switch from the summer peaches and yellow squash that now fill the bins to winter broccoli, garlic and onions.

Kidwiler heard about the market from a friend, and Thursday’s visit was her first.

“I try to buy local, and I wish there was more of it around here,” Kidwiler said. “I’ll definitely be back.”

Another version of think globally, act locally.