Farmers market: Mission possible

Judy Hess gets help from Hannah Underwood, 9 to find herbs at the Gilroy Demonstration Garden

It’s a Friday afternoon, and the weekly farmers market is
buzzing with activity. Some stroll with coffee in hand, several
clutch bouquets of flowers and others tout canvas bags bulging with
asparagus, jars of local honey, butter lettuce, artisan bread,
farm-fresh eggs, heirloom tomatoes and artichokes. Acoustic guitar
notes fill the air, aromas of barbecue and kettle corn permeate the
senses and creations on display by regional artists speckle the
scene with splashes of color. For a gathering of this flavor,
Gilroy residents must travel to Morgan Hill, Hollister, Monterey,
Aptos or San Juan Bautista to satiate their farmers market fancy –
but not for long.
It’s a Friday afternoon, and the weekly farmers market is buzzing with activity.

Students are getting out of school, people are coming home from work and community members are congregating downtown.

Some stroll with coffee in hand, several clutch bouquets of flowers and others tout canvas bags bulging with asparagus, jars of local honey, butter lettuce, artisan bread, farm-fresh eggs, heirloom tomatoes and artichokes. Acoustic guitar notes fill the air, aromas of barbecue and kettle corn permeate the senses and creations on display by regional artists speckle the scene with splashes of color.

For a gathering of this flavor, Gilroy residents must travel to Morgan Hill, Hollister, Monterey, Aptos or San Juan Bautista to satiate their farmers market fancy – but not for long.

“It’s hard for me to be patient,” said Judy Hess, director of the Gilroy Demonstration Garden at Eigleberry Street between Sixth and Seventh streets. “It’s good timing right now.”

It looks like she won’t have to hold her breath.

The supervising board of Leadership Gilroy, a nine-month program that grooms community members for leadership roles, approved a new class project Thursday titled “Spice of Life: Downtown Gilroy Festival and Market.”

Terry Newman, president of the board of directors, explained class members will create and layout the entire infrastructure for a farmers market and downtown festival, then kick off the inaugural event.

“Once that project has been completed, they’ll turn over all their contact information and all the structure they created to whatever organization wants to take it over from there,” she said Thursday.

On Wednesday as she pushed a cart loaded with potting soil towards the greenhouse at Gilroy High School, Hess – who said she was already working on developing a farmers market in Gilroy – asserted she’d like to assume that role.

The gardening guru was also instrumental in bringing the Demonstration Garden to fruition in conjunction with Leadership Gilroy, something Hess said will be a fitting segue to a farmers market.

“We plan on opening the market late spring, and are currently growing crops in the Demonstration Garden for the market,” she confirmed Wednesday, adding all local organic growers, artists and crafters should contact her if they would like to participate.

With the aid of numerous dedicated volunteers, Hess is working on the domino effect of a little green here, a little green there. She said she wants to see more fresh, organic food available to everyone, no matter their income.

Her other projects include helping to revitalize the spacious GHS greenhouse, pushing for the addition of a horticulture class at GHS and one day seeing every school in the district get a garden of its own.

But one thing at a time, for now.

On Feb. 22, Hess and several vested agencies including Leadership Gilroy, Gilroy City Council members and the Gilroy Arts Alliance Center met and conducted a roundtable discussion on fanning the farmers market flames.

“I love it,” said Eric Howard, president of the Downtown Association Board of Directors. “I think it’s a great idea. How can it be anything but good for downtown?”

The effort currently has a market promoter and market manager according to Hess, who would like to become the overseer/facilitator.

Chattering away as she sank her fingers into a rubber bin of irrigated dirt, Hess said the farmers market ideally could take root in close proximity to the Demonstration Garden.

“If I could pick a place, that’s where I’d want it,” she piped.

As for possible hours of operation, Hess mentioned from 3 to 7 p.m. Friday, or from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m Sunday.

Downtown developer Gary Walton – who was also present for the Feb. 22 meeting – pointed out Morgan Hill’s successful farmers market started small.

“It takes consistency,” he said. “You can’t do it for one season or two seasons and then give up. You have to keep tweaking, and find out what people want, and bring those things there.”

Walton indicated spontaneous interaction between locals is a vital element to encourage, as big box chains at the outlets aren’t conducive to relaxed, casual social run-ins.

“You don’t run into people that you know over there,” he said referring to the outlets. “And if you do, it’s not a comfortable place to talk. The outlets weren’t designed for that. They sell you something, and then you have to leave.”

Walton said there have been two efforts to start a farmers market in the past, but poor attendance, inconsistency and “not enough soul to keep people interested in coming back” killed the attempt.

Perhaps third time’s a charm.

The demand for a farmers market appeared numerous times in the Discovery Gilroy survey posted online by the City of Gilroy, where residents elaborated on what they’d like to see downtown.

“I wish there was a farmers market, like the one in downtown Monterey on Tuesday nights,” wrote one participant.

Items such as “live music,” “cultural events,” “swap meets” and “organic market” also banked requests in the survey.

“People want a reason to come downtown, and events fulfill that role,” said Councilman Peter Leroe-Muñoz, who attended the meeting. “That’s why having something – not to just go buy food and leave – but a community event where people can go, share time, buy great food and enjoy an afternoon together is needed.”

Leroe-Muñoz said a farmers market survey is also in the works that will assist organizers in gauging what aspects will garner the attention and attendance of community members.

According to Newman, the board of supervisors was very pleased with Leadership Gilroy’s class presentation Thursday morning.

“The class wants to encourage local vendors to participate, encourage healthy living, local shopping and provide a venue to have multicultural activities,” she said.

In an e-mail written Thursday, Hess said she’s enjoyed the variety of people that work and play in the downtown garden, and she’s looking forward to expanding the good vibe.

“I see our farmers market in the same light,” she wrote. “Where all folks in Gilroy and surrounding communities can participate in local fresh organic (nonchemical) foods.”

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