Santa Cruz County farmers markets: Frequently asked questions

Flowers at the Blue Heron Farms stand at the downtown Santa Cruz farmers market.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

If you’re visiting one of Santa Cruz County’s farmers markets, you’re certain to find locally grown fruits and vegetables, prepared food to eat there or take home, and handcrafted treats. But you might have a few questions before you walk out the door, like: What’s the parking situation like? Do I need to stop at the ATM before I go? Should I bring my kids? What about my dog?

These are great questions and knowing what to expect ahead of time will help you enjoy whatever market you decide to visit to the fullest. Most markets have their own distinct policies, procedures and infrastructure, so don’t assume that what’s true at one market will be the same at another. We’ve taken the time to answer some common questions to prepare you before you head out the door.

Have a question that need answering? Email news@lookoutlocal.com and we’ll find out.

Can I return what I buy?

Customers generally don’t return items at farmers markets, but it’s not unheard of. As the markets in Santa Cruz County don’t have overarching return policies, ask the vendors directly. They are independent businesses, so each vendor has an independent return policy. And it could be worth checking. Vendors are customer-forward and want to ensure the quality of their goods — but within reason. If there is a discrepancy, or you are unsure whether your items qualify for a return, contact the market managers and they can direct you.

Should I bring my own bags?

Bringing your own reusable bags is always a good idea. While some vendors offer paper or plastic bags for their produce, some do not, and large, grocery store-style bags are not available. Rather than juggle several items and risk dropping those perfectly ripe peaches on the ground, remember to grab one or two reusable bags from home before you leave.

What if it’s raining?

Bring an umbrella and your rain boots, because the markets will run rain or shine. Fortunately, most vendors have a canopy of sorts so you can still shop uninhibited.

That said, some markets could close early if it’s pouring rain and they have no customers. They might also close for safety reasons. Lightning can be dangerous and strong winds can blow canopies astray. If the conditions outside look questionable, head to the social media page of your intended market’s managing operator to check for updates or contact the market manager directly. A list of managing operators with their corresponding market, social media feeds and contacts can be found here.

Nicole Todd of Santa Cruz Cider Company at the downtown Santa Cruz farmers market
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Can I bring my kids?

Absolutely! Though not all markets have kid-specific activities, those like Felton, Scotts Valley, and the Community Health Trust El Mercado in Watsonville cater to the younger crowd with face painting, a play area, and a bouncy house. The Tuesday and Friday markets in Watsonville will also occasionally have a caricature artist and balloon-animal making. But if you don’t see any of these activities at your market, or your kids simply aren’t in the mood, you can always grab a meal with the family and listen to music.

What about my pets?

Except for service animals, pets are not allowed per Santa Cruz County Environmental Health Department policy.

Do I need cash?

Most likely, no. Nowadays, cash takes the back seat to more digital forms of payment such as credit cards or payment apps. However, each market is different and it’s always a good idea to bring cash if you have it.

Outside of exchanging for tokens or Big Bucks (see below), many vendors, across all the markets, will also take payment through apps like Venmo, CashApp, ApplePay or GooglePay, or use programs like Square to read credit cards. Don’t rely on this to be true for every vendor, but for some markets you might not even need your wallet.

Felton, Westside, downtown, Live Oak and Scotts Valley

The Santa Cruz Community Farmers Markets don’t require cash at all — no more mentally smacking yourself for not bringing cash or rushing to the nearest ATM. Use your credit or debit card in exchange for tokens of the same amount to apply to any vendor around the market. Tokens come in $5 dollar denominations. If you don’t have exact values for your order, vendors will provide you change in the form of cash. While the system charges $2 for every card-to-token transaction of any amount (whether you buy $10 worth of tokens or $50), the tokens don’t expire and can be used at any of the Santa Cruz Community Farmers Markets — a great incentive to pay more up front and ensure vendors aren’t charged a fee or taxed for payments made through apps. Exchanges are made at an information booth within the market.

Aptos (Monterey Bay Farmers Market at Cabrillo)

Like SCCFMs, the Monterey Bay Farmers Markets location at Cabrillo College in Aptos has a credit card exchange program, but instead of tokens, it offers what are called Big Bucks.

Capitola, Watsonville, Community Health Trust, Corralitos

Be sure to bring cash to these markets, as they do not have a credit exchange program. However, just across the street from the downtown Watsonville farmers market, you can find a Well’s Fargo ATM.

Kashiwase Farm's stand at the downtown Santa Cruz farmers market
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

What about EBT?

EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) can be exchanged at all markets except Capitola; just head to the market’s information booth to exchange for tokens. The tokens act the same as those exchanged from credit cards, though EBT tokens come only in $1 denominations and vendors cannot provide change for them (however, to ensure transactions are even, they might throw in an extra lemon or two).

Additionally, during all of 2022, the downtown, Felton and Scotts Valley markets have a 3-to-1 rate with their Market Match Program, which will provide two additional token dollars for the first $10 of EBT money you use. So $10 EBT dollars becomes $30 farmers market dollars.

Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program coupons can be exchanged for booklets with vouchers of $20 to $40, which can be exchanged on individual senior days at participating markets.

Eligible WIC participants can also receive coupons at all markets except Capitola.

How do I know what’s in season?

The Santa Cruz Community Farmers Markets website offers a fantastic produce directory. You can search the seasonality of produce by month, season, or produce type.

The Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Markets and SCCFM both send out monthly newsletters that share what’s currently in season, what’s coming in and what’s on its way out, plus market news and recipes. Subscribe through their websites.

Another way to find out is to go to the market! Generally, you can tell what’s in season just by looking around, but if you’re still not sure, head to the market’s information booth, which will have seasonal information and recipes. You can also ask the vendors directly. They have the most contact with all facets of the produce production, from growing to harvesting, and will be able to provide you with most in-depth information.

Are there bathrooms?

Portable toilets are available at all Santa Cruz County farmers markets.

What’s the transportation situation?

Every market offers varying levels of parking availability. Check out Lookout’s map below for detailed information about where to park. Don’t want to drive? METRO bus stops are located nearby every Santa Cruz farmers market.

Biking is always encouraged, especially at markets with tight parking. A bike valet is available at the downtown Santa Cruz farmers market, and there are designated bike parking areas at the Westside, Live Oak, Scotts Valley and Aptos farmers markets.

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