Farm fresh produce and other local goods abound at Cabo markets

 

Although better known for its beaches and endless sunshine, the splendid farmers markets of Los Cabos deserve equal attention, especially from full- or part-time residents who crave natural food and want to support the local economy.

 

Organic and farm-to-consumer markets abound in the region, with markets in Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo and the corridor, Los Barriles, and Todos Santos, among others.

 

Los Cabos’ chefs, no matter their skill level, enjoy the freshest produce, artisan goods and creative cuisine offered by small, regional producers that never fail to delight.  It’s a treasure hunt with a guaranteed prize at the end; something your soul and body will thank you for.

Farmers markets in and around Cabo also foster community and many feature arts, crafts, music, kids’ activities, yoga, and other experiences that make visiting a farmers market in Southern Baja more than just a way to fill your pantry.

 

Cabo’s Agricultural Roots

 

Ecotourism is on the rise in Cabo as people increasingly embrace nature and sustainability, and the area is renowned for its fresh produce and numerous, world-class farm-to-table restaurants.

 

Los Cabos homeowners reap the benefits of this agricultural movement, whether dining out on working farms or at home using produce and herbs often still warm from the Cabo sun.  

 

Here we explore where it all began by looking back at Cabo’s agricultural roots, from historic to organic. We also explore the unique story of the birth of organic markets through the eyes of its founder, John Graham. You’ll also find pertinent info on the five most popular markets that everyone should visit; San Jose Organic Market, Palmilla, Los Barriles, Cabo San Lucas’s Pedregal Market and the new Todos Santos Organic Market. 

 

Cabo’s Agricultural Roots

Cabo has a long history with agriculture and exports. The pitahaya, also known as dragon fruit, has been harvested for centuries with written records describing the sweet cactus fruit dating back to the arrival of the Jesuits in the late 1600s. These missionaries wrote of a kind of jam the indigenous Guaycura would make, mixing pitahayas with roasted hearts of Mezcal. There are even paintings of Guaycura women harvesting the fruit in the mountains with the aid of a long stick. 

 

The European colonists, who were expelled in 1767 after founding 16 missions, brought new food sources to Baja’s desert tropical climate, including wheat, beans, grapes, date palms, olive and fig trees.

 

Passing ships from China and the Philippines laden with luxuries from the East, such as spices and silks, on their trading journey to mainland Mexico would stop at the San Jose del Cabo estuary to take on fresh water. These merchant visitors brought mangos, apricots and tamarinds to the ‘New World,’ delicious additions to the local diet that Cabo residents still enjoy to this day. 

 

In the late 1800s, sugar cane was king, planted and harvested to make brown sugar, or piloncillo, from San Jose del Cabo to Todos Santos. Longtime residents of the town of Las Animas, where farm-to-table restaurants Flora Farm, Tamarindos and Acre are located, recall the air in the tiny pueblo smelling and tasting like sugar, as well as the incessant noise of the towns’ mills.

 

Sugar cane was the first crop exported from Southern Baja, destined for mainland Mexico where demand was high. For a time Los Cabos was the king of sugar in Mexico.

 

The cane plantations were centers of agricultural activity long before Southern Baja became a state, and helped local entrepreneurs prosper, bringing heretofore unfathomed wealth to the sparsely populated territory.

The sugar boom lasted until the early 1950s when a devastating, seven-year drought drained the water table and proved to be the death knell for the industry.

 

The lack of water forced many farming families to move away to agricultural regions north of La Paz where water was more plentiful, and farming in Los Cabos took a back seat to ranching for a time.

 

Organic farm

 

But the versatility of Southern Baja’s soil, availability of land and near-perfect winter climate beckoned to farmers from the north beginning in 1985 not long after the transpeninsular highway was built and paved, connecting Los Cabos to the United States 1,063 miles to the north.

 

Husband and wife Larry Jacobs and Sandra Belin were farmers in California when they visited Southern Baja, falling in love with the people, climate and soil. 

 

The couple, who owned Jacobs Farms in Northern California, were at the forefront of the burgeoning organic farming movement, and brought their seeds, expertise and sustainable growing techniques to farmers in Pescadero, near Todos Santos, founding the Del Cabo farming collective, which today is made up of more than 1,200 farming families spread along the Baja Peninsula.

 

Americans from states as far north as Alaska have for years been able to buy Baja cherry tomatoes and herbs all winter long, an unlikely accomplishment that has put Cabo on the organic agricultural map.

 

The Birth of the Organic Market

 

"Agriculture is the proper profession of the wise, the most suitable to the simple and the most dignified occupation for every free man." The ancient Roman orator and statesman Cicero said more than 2,000 years ago.

 

His words hold true to this day and aptly capture the philosophy of Oklahoman John Graham, the founder of Southern Baja’s organic movement.

Graham also was fundamental in promoting organic farming back in the US and helped start and run Eugene, Oregon’s lauded organic market, before he was dispatched to Los Cabos in 1987. 

 

One of the early legends of the organic movement in the US, Graham was  raised on a farm, driving a tractor in circles around crops such as wheat and sorghum since the age of 12. The last thing on his mind as he entered college in 1972 was agriculture, he says, with a flash of his blue eyes and quick smile. 

 

Being a hippy had more appeal to the young man, whose wanderlust eventually led him to the Peace Corps recruitment table and he signed on. Graham was sent to Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, staying for five years on what was supposed to be a two-year stint. 

 

At the same time, books about back-to-basics agriculture and organic farming were trending, and Graham realized there was a niche of farming that greatly appealed to him.

 

After the Peace Corps, Graham traveled to England and studied the methods of agricultural pioneer Alan Chadwick before moving to Oregon and falling in with the state’s growing crowd of organic aficionados.

 

There, he worked where he could, including a stint delivering produce in an old bread truck for a handful of area farmers who used organic techniques. He worked his way up to become the co-founder and manager of Eugene’s farmers market in the early ‘80s, which remains one of the most vibrant markets in the country. 

 

Graham also joined the International Federation for Organic Agriculture Movement, a global organization that established basic standards for what organic agriculture should be, and Graham began expecting farms and awarding organic certification on their behalf. 

It was this role that first brought him to Los Cabos in 1990, where he was the first and only organic certifier in the area, and the first in all of Mexico. 

 

“I never intended to stay,” Graham says. “It was a very different back then. San Jose del Cabo was a town of around 15,000 people so it was kind of a backwoods experience.” Graham jokes that he got stuck in’ Los Cabos,’ where he has lived since, thoroughly enjoying the people, culture, and watching the seeds he has planted grow to fruition over more than three decades.

 

The desert topography isn’t what one usually thinks of as farm country, but Graham says that in the winter season, “the soil is easy to bring into fertility.”

 

Organic producers eschew chemicals and opt for natural fertilizers such as manure, earthworm castings and seaweed. Crops can be chosen and attended to in a way that discourages insects, making pesticides unnecessary, and rotating crops helps avoid depleting the soil’s nutrients, which often happens with mono-crops.

 

Graham’s primordial role in the San Jose Organic Market, which he is still active in today, was essential to getting farming off the ground in Los Cabos.

 

 It began as a sort of experiment held out on Gloria and Partick Greene’s land in Las Animas called Flora Farms, a 25-acre parcel just five minutes north of San Jose del Cabo, about 30 minutes up the road from Cabo San Lucas.

 

“We started our local farmers market here at the farm and it was an alien idea for our community at that time; by disseminating seeds and organic growing techniques, organic farming has become part of the fabric of our community,” Gloria Greene told Modern Farmer.

 

Graham and the Greenes managed to cobble together a few organic growers, and the San Jose Mercado Organico, a non-profit from the onset, was born. 

As the market grew, it changed locations, from Flora Farms to the Jockey Club to Huerta Las Marias and now Club La Huerta, with ample parking and a large grassy area for vendors and entertainment. Graham estimates that between 800 and 1,000 people visit the San Jose del Cabo Organic Market each Saturday during the high season.

 

Graham maintains a booth at the market where he sells crops he grows on his land (recently profiled in a viral YouTube video that has nearly 1 million views)  at one of several stands for fresh produce. Also for sale are plants, herbs, tomatoes and decorative plants, baked goods, pizza, lasagna, and even naan tacos and mineral sunscreen on a recent visit. 

 

The makeshift stage features singer-songwriters and African dance, and arts and crafts are everywhere in booths manned by their creators. In total there are around 80 booths this year, with space for more. Locally produced goods are welcome, recycling is mandatory, Chinese gadgetry is forbidden, Graham says. “We do have rules.”

 

And it’s a great place for aspiring entrepreneurs to get their feet wet. “The market has been something of an incubator,” Graham says, a place where people can test out their business models before making a major investment, or musicians can perform in front of an audience to gain experience.

 

Children are warmly welcomed, and there are numerous activities to keep them active and occupied. SanJoMo, as it is affectionately referred to, is an ideal way to spend a Saturday morning, sampling the best of what this community has to offer among friends, old and new. 

 

It’s a cosmopolitan event, with vendors and attendees coming from all around the world to gather together and celebrate creativity and nature every week, and an activity that is now firmly woven into the tapestry of life in Los Cabos.

 

It’s the market’s spirit that Graham rejoices in, and he’s more than pleased to see other communities around the state starting up their own farmer’s markets. “Supporting them helps everyone,” he says.

 

San Jose Organic Market

Baja California Sur’s original farmer’s market, this is the perfect way to spend a sunny Saturday. With entertainment, activities for adults and kids, and over 80 booths brimming with locally created products, the organic Market is a true community gathering place drawing a cosmopolitan crown of vendors and visitors and has been since its inception in 1998. 

Organic Market

 

From November through April, the market, which has ample parking, is open every Saturday from 9 am to 3 pm at Club La Huerta, just behind Centenario Street in San Jose del Cabo. For San Jose residents, including those in communities like  Tortuga Bay, Las Mañanitas, Las Playitas, Puerto Los Cabos or the Viceroy Residences, the market’s bounty is just a few minutes from home.

 

Palmilla Market

Just down the road from premium developments like  The Break, Querencia and Club Campestre, and, literally, right next door to the luxurious homes in Palmilla, this market is a must-do. Located at the chic Shoppes at Palmilla, the shopping center just off the transpeninsular highway at the Palmilla exit, this Friday morning market offers delicious fresh food and handicrafts created by local chefs and artists. Embroidery, silver jewelry and fresh cut flowers are just some of the treasures waiting to be discovered.

 

 Los Barriles: 

The quaint and unspoiled beauty of Los Barriles is rivaled by the friendliness and creativity of its residents. The farmers market is a great way to explore the community and meet your neighbors, especially convenient for those living in Azula or Four Seasons Resort and Residences Los Cabos at Costa Palmas. Los Barriles is also an ideal destination for a Saturday road trip from Los Cabos and is located just 45 minutes northeast of the San Jose International Airport. Come for breakfast, baked goods from the popular Mango Bakery, artisan cheese, authentic Chinese food from Kung Fu Kitchen, plants, herbs, art, jewelry, compost and an array of vegetables at this market, which is as charming as the town that hosts it. Market hours are from 9 am to 1 pm.

 

Cabo San Lucas Organic Farmer’s Market in Pedregal

This twice-weekly market, held on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7:30 am to 12:30 pm is ideal for the Cabo San Lucas crowd, especially those living right next door in the iconic and luxurious Pedregal, or in upscale developments such as Quivira, Diamante, the Waldorf Astoria

The Cabo San Lucas Organic Market is the place to pick up fresh pasta and sauce, cinnamon rolls, muffins, fruits, vegetables, chicken, eggs, and cheeses as well as one of the best gathering places to meet members of our very diverse Cabo community. 

Cabos organic farming

 

Inaugurated in December 2023 with support from the folks behind the San Jose Organic Market, this new entry into the farmers market circuit is not to be missed. 

 

The town itself, deemed a pueblo magico, or magic town, by the Mexican government is reason enough to make a visit to the Pacific beachside community located an hour north of Cabo San Lucas. Hit this one up on Sundays from 8 am to 1 pm and make a day out of it. 

 

The market features stands overflowing with vegetables, fruits, honey, art and baked goods, complete with family-friendly activities, drum circles and live music. 

 

With stated values aslocal, regenerative, organic, holistic, alternative, loving, healing, original, creative and authentic,” and with a devotion to 

“humility, cooperation, sensitivity, spirituality, fun, empathy and quality of family life,” this market embodies the distinctive Todos Santos spirit. Located at Palma Serena, the market takes place from 9 am to 2 pm every Friday in season. Leashed pets are welcome.

 

Apart from these main markets, several others in Cabo San Lucas, Santiago and La Ventana are also worth a visit, each amplifying and supporting the magical Los Cabos culture of creativity and growth.