Farmers’ market plans for downtown ripening nicely

Judy Hess, left, and Catalina Ventura have been working closely

As two prior attempts to establish a permanent farmers’ market
up and withered into indefinite hibernation like an unwatered ficus
plant, conditions may be ripe for a third endeavor to blossom. Full
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As two prior attempts to establish a permanent farmers’ market up and withered into indefinite hibernation like an unwatered ficus plant, conditions may be ripe for a third endeavor to blossom.

With a major jump-start in funding and planning by Leadership Gilroy, along with grassroots initiative taken by Judy Hess, Gilroy Demonstration Garden director, the Gilroy Downtown Farmers’ Market is not only taking shape with vendors and a launch date of June 5 – it also has a face.

As they sat on a shaded bench Friday morning inside the Demonstration Garden located on Eigleberry Street between Sixth and Seventh streets, Hess and newly appointed Market Manager Catalina Ventura chattered feverishly on the organization’s burgeoning progress.

“I can’t duplicate me, but hey – Catalina is perfect,” exclaimed Hess, who feels Ventura fits the bill when it comes to spearheading continual operation, vendor relations and administrative diligence. “We both have a passion for uniting Gilroy around health.”

Hess praised Leadership Gilroy, a nine-month program that primes participants for leadership roles within the community, for catapulting progress by organizing and funding the inaugural “Spice of Life Downtown Gilroy Festival & Market” kickoff event slated from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 5.

From that point on, “market host ” Hess and manager Ventura are running the show from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays in two vacant lots near the corner of Monterey and Seventh streets.

While all for attracting artisans, Ventura firmly indicated the venue won’t become a flea market touting goods made overseas.

“I want it to be from Gilroy. This is moving away from ‘Wal-Mar-terization.’ Moving away from that big box thinking, and keeping our money in our local banks and in local people’s pockets.”

The 32-year-old Gilroy High School alumna’s ferocious enthusiasm – not only for the Farmers’ Market but also what it encourages – is moralistically serious and highly contagious.

“If you expect government to be innovative, you’re going to be disappointed,” she said. “I would like to see Gilroy be the leader and example for the rest of Santa Clara County and the state and the world.”

Hess and Ventura are looking at the bigger tapestry of organic change from the ground up.

Both share an overarching vision for a healthier Gilroy where people become familiar with area producers, are conscious of what they consume and adopt a “buy local” mentality.

“I think that’s what we’re all looking for,” said Ventura. “Looking at your farmer’s face and asking him about their practices. Having a connection to someone who grows your food is so important.”

Their goal is to have the market open throughout the year, eventually blossoming into a venue where residents from opposite ends of town intermingle, socialize, sip on coffee and build connections.

Ensuring accessibly priced organic foods compared to the “outrageous” prices in stores is paramount, Hess said.

Educational outreach, culinary demonstrations and even a cooking extravaganza prior to the Gilroy Garlic Festival showcasing up-and-coming garlic chefs are all on the table.

So far, a handful of vendors on board include Uvas Gold Apiaries on Hecker Pass, Van Dyke Farms in Gilroy, Heirloom Organics from Hollister, Heaven and Earth Body specializing in sustainably made bodycare products from Santa Cruz, food vendors from Morgan Hill, Ynot Organics from San Martin, Frog Hollow Farms from Brentwood, Rvalcaba Nursery from Watsonville and Frantoio Grove olive oil from San Martin.

There will also be certified organic chickens and eggs from Surfside Chickens in Watsonville, “a lovely young couple in their 20s trying to change the world,” laughed Ventura.

Additionally, Gilroy City Councilman Peter Leroe-Muñoz is engaged in attracting student groups, musical acts and art demonstrations.

“By having students from a drama class, jazz ensemble or dramatic performances gives it that overall feel that we’re looking for to make it an experience in and of itself, beyond going and buying your fresh fruits and vegetables,” he said.

Hess and Ventura agreed earlier problems stemmed from an unsolidified management system and lack of permanent point person who not only calls Gilroy home, but is deeply vested in its welfare.

During preliminary market talks in March, downtown developer Gary Walton attributed poor attendance, inconsistency and “not enough soul to keep people interested in coming back” as stalemating earlier efforts.

The last market was run by Urban Village, an association that runs a dozen farmers’ markets in California, Hess said.

“We’ve established community here. That’s a big difference.”

Ventura also pointed out education – helping people understand why supporting local agriculture is important – is key for long-term success and growth. Gilroy has chronic bad health statistics, she said. Part of addressing that is giving impoverished families access to healthy resources.

Looking around the garden in full bloom, Hess commented life has its roller coasters, but “we’re coming back to an old way of life.”

“This is a really neat shift,” added Ventura. “By desire or by necessity, things have to change.”

Downtown Gilroy Farmers’ Market taking shape

– Spice of Life Downtown Gilroy Festival & Market, the inaugural event spearheaded by Gilroy Leadership, runs 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 5. After that, the market will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays

– Near the Gilroy Demonstration Garden, located on Eigleberry Street between Sixth and Seventh streets

– Vendors wanting to participate or people with questions may call Ventura at 710-7147 or email [email protected] Questions may also be directed to Michele Garcia from Leadership Gilroy at 842-6437. For an additional $25, vendors can gain exposure on the market website at

– Vendor fees are $25 for 10′ x 10′ booths, with larger booths available for $35 after the initial June 5 event. Fees for nonprofit vendors is $10

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