Gilroy Farmers’ Market: The seeds of change

Kersty Daniels, left, the farmers’ market new manager, stands

After an inaugural season spent spreading its roots and weathering growing pains, the Gilroy farmers’ market is gearing to blossom for a second year with a new leader and a change in the “all organic” policy.

With gained insight, lessons learned and fresh crop of ideas, the Gilroy Demonstration Garden – which hosts the market – plans on re-opening the venue on Sundays beginning May 13. Ideas for possible location changes have been tossed around, including First Street near Santa Teresa Boulevard, Gourmet Alley and Fifth Street between Eigleberry and Monterey Streets. But for now, at least, the market is slated to keep its original location in the newly paved parking lot and field near the Gilroy Interim Center for the Arts on the corner of Monterey and Seventh streets.

Kersty Daniels, a local who serves on the leadership committee for the Gilroy Demonstration Garden, was elected Monday evening by the garden’s leaders as the paid market manager for 2012.

This happened the same day Catalina Ventura, the market’s manager last year who helped open and guide the venue through its first year of operation, put the brakes on her vision of re-opening an independent market herself along Fifth Street between Monterey and Eigleberry.

Ventura said she believed the market could function more successfully as a separate entity from the Gilroy Demonstration Garden, which is located downtown and focuses on education, sustainable gardening and community activities.

“I had a different vision for our community’s market than those with the Demonstration Garden. It is with much sadness that I will not return as the manager. I certainly hope to serve my community in another way,” she wrote Tuesday evening via email.

Garden Director Judy Hess explained the market manager position “just didn’t work out for (Ventura).”

Differences aside, Ventura reiterated she wants to see the 1-year-old Gilroy farmers’ market thrive. If she could pick any of the garden’s volunteers to take her place, “it would be Kersty,” said Ventura. “She’s really together, gifted and good with people. I hope she takes it to a better place.”

After two prior, failed attempts over a span of several years, a third effort to get a farmers’ market going in Gilroy was spearheaded last summer by Hess and Ventura. The June 5, 2011 kick-off festival was organized by Leadership Gilroy, a nine-month program that grooms community members for leadership roles.

Since the market closed for the season Oct. 23, 2011, its backers and advocates are busy brainstorming improvements based on community feedback.

One issue she encountered, Ventura said, was disappointment from local growers who aren’t certified organic from the United States Department of Agriculture. This was a market requirement for vendors last year.

“Including our local farmers is key, and that was one of our biggest debates last year,” said Ventura. “That’s been my feedback from the very beginning of last season. Whether they grow conventionally or not, they have to be included.”

While market leaders will continue to emphasize eating with the seasons, buying local and educating the public about organic gardening, the suggestion hasn’t fallen on deaf ears.

Hess said all area farmers, organic or non-organic, should contact Daniels if they’re interested in becoming a regular market vendor.

“Eating organic is really important to me in the way of health,” said Hess. “But we don’t want any farmers in Gilroy to feel like they’re not welcome. We want all of our local people to feel welcome. Not ostracized.”

Other developments include the possibility of accepting food stamps from patrons who qualify for CalWorks, a program that provides temporary financial assistance to low-income families.

Having filled out the necessary paperwork and waiting on a response from CalWorks, “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t happen by the time we open,” said Hess.

The Gilroy Demonstration Garden is also in the works of attaining its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, which would extend to the farmers’ market. Whereas the Gilroy Foundation – the local philanthropic, nonprofit organization – currently manages bookkeeping for the garden/farmers’ market, gaining nonprofit status will allow the garden and market to become their own fiscal agents.

Vendor fees will be the same as last year, with a one-time application fee of $35, followed by a $25 fee for a 10-by-10 space, or $35 for a 20-by-25 space per market day. Vendors receive a discount if they pay up front for the entire season.

Daniels, the market manager, will be paid the same amount Ventura received last year, Hess said. Ventura said this stipend is 30 percent of the market’s weekly profit. Donna Pray, Executive Director of the Gilroy Foundation, did not have the market’s total revenue for 2011, but said income for both the market and garden in 2011 was about $24,000.

“It started out big, and at the end, it was really small,” said Hess, who estimated market income during its first month was around $2,900. “Every month after that, it went down.”

As for possible location changes in the future, Hess would like to see the market move into Gourmet Alley; creating a market corridor of sorts that branches into the empty lot between the Interim Center for the Arts and Porcella’s Music on Monterey Street.

The reality of that, however, hinges on the city’s approval of safety standards for fire and traffic, Hess said.

Prior to removing herself from the market’s leadership picture, Ventura said she believed Fifth Street between Monterey and Eigleberry would increase downtown presence and support for local businesses. Wayne Pitts of Uvas Gold Apiaries, on the other hand, who sold his honey at the market last year and intends to participate again as a vendor this year, suggested the area near Santa Teresa Boulevard and First Street.

“Location, location, location. You have to be somewhere where there’s people,” he pointed out. “There’s not a lot of traffic at Seventh and Monterey.”

Asked to weigh in on the subject, longtime downtown developer Gary Walton said he’d prefer to keep the market downtown, but regardless of location, “you just have to market it,” he reasoned.

Hess pointed out marketing and advertising will be up for discussion during an upcoming planning meeting at 6 p.m. Jan. 23.

As he mulled improvements for 2012, Walton mentioned a petting zoo for children, opening up early for local restaurants so they can purchase fresh ingredients, and having a garlic-themed booth run by Garlic Shoppe co-owner Alex Larson, perhaps.

He also reminded that students at Christopher and Gilroy high schools need 80 hours of community service to graduate. Establishing ties between vendors and students could be beneficial to both parties, he said.

“They should also increase the amount of prepared foods, and have a food court with different, interesting street food … there’s something about the smell of cooked food, versus a bunch of vegetables just sitting there,” Walton added.

Last year, the market had three to four prepared food vendors, including sausage dogs from Silva Sausage, baked goods from Rebekah’s Culinary Academy, specialty dips from Hummus Heaven and corn-on-the-cob by Lily’s Roasted Corn.

“One of the primary reasons for a farmers’ market is the social aspect. It’s where the community meets. They need to stress that,” said Walton. “They need to think outside the box and make it a destination. What would draw people from the Outlets?”

On this note, Daniels said she plans to organize special events at the market – once a month, ideally. She’ll also be working on increasing vendor variety. On the Gilroy farmers’ market Facebook page, some requests for next year include organic eggs, raw milk, cheese and locally raised meats.

Like Walton, Melanie Corona – the Downtown Business Association’s part-time coordinator who plans downtown events and promotes local businesses – wants to see the Gilroy farmers’ market evolve into a destination. Growing up in Sonoma, she said, the Sonoma farmers’ market was, and still is, “the place to be.”

Now a resident of the Garlic Capital who patronizes the Gilroy Farmers’ market, however, Corona would like to see more reasons that entice visitors to stay longer.

“I really want to see the farmers’ market as a destination for people who live in Gilroy, regardless of what day it’s held. Just to have people head downtown, grab their produce, get food, sit down, hang out, visit, touch base with friends … I would like it to have more like a community building component to it.”

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