Farmers Not Interested in City Take Over Of Their Farmer’s Market. Are You?
For over 25 years, dedicated family farmers and independent food purveyors from all over California have arrived at SF’s UN Plaza at dawn on Wednesdays & Sundays, setting up their temporary tents & tables to sell their produce and sundry products til about 5pm. Whether you like the wide array of greens or roasted nuts, dried fruits, dates, baked goods, cheeses, olive oils or even fresh fish & fowl, there’s something for everyone. Unlike the more pretentious and prosperous scene at the fashionable Ferry Building, this inauspicious & authentic farmer’s market is frequented by the denizens of the neighborhood, office workers on lunch break, old Chinese folks and some occasional tourists that find it upon emerging from BART. The prices are often half of what the other fancy farmer’s market might charge, and the scene about as bucolic and community orientated as one can get in “The Heart Of The City”.
If it wasn’t for the farmers & vendors who twice a week make the United Nations Plaza a lively civic gathering spot, the place is generally a desolate, if not dangerous empty expanse populated by sleepy doped up miscreants, drug dealers, ne’er do ‘ells, tweakers, stolen property salesmen and a spectacular variety of shady criminal thugs. The same city and it’s bloated bureaucracy, which had a big hand in letting the UN plaza slip into a symbolic cesspool of urban decay in the first place, now wants to manage the sole successful independently operated revitalizing factor in the area ? How uh, original…
The “Heart Of The City Farmer’s Market” at UN Plaza has long been organized and managed by an independent non-profit that was formed in 1981 starting with just 12 farmers, and some of the same vendors have been there since the inception. John Fernandez and his mother Christine Adams help manage the market that the city now has plans to “take over” after two+ decades, and they are not amused. Neither were at least a half dozen stall operators that I spoke to in an informal survey today, some who’ve been at UN Plaza since the very early days. They already dealt with this threat back in 1995, and here we go again, with a basically bankrupt bureaucracy that’s trying to dip it’s incompetent tentacles into something that isn’t broke, so why bother to fix it?
As I left the market circa 4 pm today, rumor had it that Adams & Fernandez were already in a meeting at City Hall with Aaron Peskin and presenting hundreds of signatures of supporters they’d gathered in just the first few hours of the day this morning.
Watch a five minute YouTube overview on the history of the market presented by the folks who founded & now run it, and will likely be squeezed out of their role if the city has it’s way…
The market operators pride themselves on serving the low income community in the area, and that the market serves authentic vegetables and fish that their large Asian customer base crave including various melons, sugarcane, pea shoots and even seafood & live fowl. Amongst the regular vendors you’ll find at Civic Center are small farmers who fight the growing spectre of sprawl all around them from Sonoma, Sacramento, Stockton, Fresno etc. Amongst my faves are the plentiful purveyors of citrus, or try the apples & ciders from Sebastopol via MacDonald’s Organic Farm, one of the area’s last Sonoma orchards that hasn’t gone over to the more profitable wine grapes. John Garrone of Far West Funghi in Moss Landing has great deals on many types of mushrooms including $2 baskets of fresh Shitakes. The Phan Farm of Elk Grove has wonderful fresh organic produce and vegetables of all sorts. Prepared foods include Spring Hill cheeses from Petaluma, raw & vegan options from Alive!, a rotisserie chicken truck, samosas and sauces from Sukhi’s of Fremont and delicious tamales from a Contra Costa county based truck. There’s even the option of getting the Filipino “delicacy” of fermented embryonic egg Balut for a quarter ( keep in mind duck egg Balut is .60 cents for you big spenders) …
Regular vendors at UN Plaza didn’t seem pleased to hear of the changes the city has planned for their longtime market, as many of these folks are small family farmers who have received little encouragement or help from the numerous large gov’t bureaucracies that engage in meddling in their fields of endeavor. Some of the changes the city will make are no doubt wrapping more red tape on farmers, including having them fill out more applications and forms, adding additional fees, taxes, permits and restrictions on vending, as well as enforcing additional codes and adding complexities that only bored bureaucrats can dream up.
The city already runs the bleak Alemany Flea & Farmer’s Market out by the 280 interchange since WWII and had to be forced by popular vote at the time to take responsibility for it, why would they want another one to mess up?
The guys that run the almond & pistachio stand were unabashed in their disapproval, and basically said Nuts! to the idea that the city start running the market. The “Chocolate Nut Man” was particularly vociferous in his disapproval at this idea being sprung on vendors, but was willing to pose for a late afternoon for photo the SF Metroblog none the less. His partner shook his head in dismay when the subject was broached and warned that there would certainly have to be a price raise coming if the city intends to double the rentals on the spaces, which he said already costs him $35,000 a year.
The farmer’s and vendors suggest anyone interested in supporting them stop by at their twice weekly market and sign their petition on Weds & Sun and also to contact the City, the Board of Supervisors and Mayor’s Office, and tell them they’d all be better off getting back to doing whatever it is we pay them handsomely to actually do, and leave the farmers downtown well enough alone.
Chris.Daly@SFgov.org – District 6 Supervisor
Aaron.Peskin@SFgov.org – Prez of Board of Supes
Ed.Lee@SFgov.org – City’s Chief Administrative Officer
Gavin.Newsom@SFgov.org – Mayor and aspiring Governor
Gary.Gentry@sfgov.org – SF Real Estate Division Market Manager