Happy Birthday, Farmers’ Market!

blog_dirtSanta Cruz celebrates 20 years of Farmers’ Market fun
It’s a Wednesday afternoon and the sound of a drum circle in full effect resonating from downtown can only mean one thing: the one and only Downtown Santa Cruz Farmers’ Market is in full swing. Celebrating its 20th anniversary on April 21 (just in time for Earth Day, naturally), the SCFM has been a staple for an array of vibrant, colorful, fresh produce, captivating scents from various world foods, and community education on every issue from organic gardening to local politics. “After all,” explains Jeff Larkey of Route One Farms, “the market is not just about produce, it’s about the community.”

Born in the chaos that followed the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the Farmers’ Market opened up to the community to help rebuild spirits in the rubble of downtown. Looking out across asphalt lot, Larkey remembers the early days when the ground was still “paved with linoleum tile” from the building that once stood there.

“Ever since then we’ve been building community by educating people about food and farming on a personal level,” says local famer and market staple Sandra Ward, as she looks out from her sea of green veggies. Not only a veteran of the early days, Ward is also a founding member of the California Certified Organic Farms (CCOF), and radical local organization formed in the days before Trader Joe’s. Back then it was “just a handful of farmers dedicated to the environment,” she says with a warm laugh. And now that “organics” are the fastest growing section in agriculture with major corporate farms trying to cash in, Ward and her fellow farmers make it their mission to have a personal relationship with their patrons, answering any questions about where the food comes from, how it’s grown and what kind of fertilizers have been used.

“It’s unbelievable,” exclaims Market Director Nasch Dhillon as he looks upon the thriving market. “It’s very Santa Cruz.” He should know; Dhillon runs four other farmers’ markets but notes the downtown market has “it’s own identity,” and always needs more and more space. And lucky for its frequenters, it’s getting just that.

As it celebrates the big 2-0, the Farmers’ Market will be able to stretch its roots a little more as it expands to cover the entire block. But that’s not all Dhillon has planned. Local bluegrass musicians Harmony Grits will be the first of many soon-to-come bands featured at the market, playing an entire set while patrons stroll the aisles of watch demonstrations by local chef Joseph Schultz. The Market will also be unveiling a pilot program, in association with Tannery Arts Center, to feature locally made arts and crafts along with a photo history of the past 20 years. And if all that wasn’t enough, be on the lookout for the upcoming “Veggie Valet” program that will allow patrons to park anywhere in the city, purchase their groceries, then leave the bags safely with a valet attendant while going back for the car without having to carry an armload of bags across town.

After two decades, the Santa Cruz Farmer’s Market is still coming up with fresh ideas to nourish us. “After all,” says Dhillon as he cracks a smile, “Food is the health of a community.”

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