Vendors yank produce from farmers’ market

Hand made goat milk soaps and lotions from Bell Hill Farms in Hollister.

Produce vendors are pulling out of the Gilroy farmers’ market due to low shopper turnout on Sundays, a trend Market Manager Kersty Daniels fears will continue as patronage remains inconsistent.
Not reopening in 2013 “is a possibility” if a substantial number of produce vendors don’t return for the market’s third season, she said.
“I’m kind of losing some of my faith in the residents of Gilroy,” Daniels admitted. “The question is: Do they really want it? Do they? I’m not seeing it.”
Regardless, she’s determined to stay open until the season ends Oct. 28 – “even if I have to do it with five vendors,” Daniels asserted.
The market saw healthy turnouts in June and July, when, on its best day, the vendor count was up to 24 booths between produce, artisan crafts and prepared food.
As of lately, however, the number has dipped as low as 12 vendors on the worst day, Daniels said.
Acknowledging that many people are on vacation this time of year or preoccupied with getting their children prepared for the start of school, Daniels views August as a slump month.
“I’m coming up with excuses to justify this low turnout, and hoping that I’m right,” she said.
For the 2-year-old Gilroy farmers’ market to “even hang on,” it needs a minimum of 200 people spending at least $20 a person every Sunday. An average 60 people per day visited the market last month. On some days, vendors end up with 20 to 40 pounds of excess produce that often ends up in a compost pile.
“I can try to bring in more vendors, but without the people, it won’t make a difference,” said Daniels. “There are over 50,000 people in Gilroy…out of that, I should be able to get 200 to 400 people at the market.”
The nonprofit market has made around $4,000 this year, which came from vendor fees and one cash donation of $600. Most of that was spent on insurance, permit fees, advertising, equipment and paying for the musical entertainment.
Underscoring the growth pattern of the Hollister farmers’ market – which, during its 26-year history saw its vendor count get as low as 10, and as high as 70 – Daniels hopes people can understand: It takes time for any farmers’ market to spread its roots and blossom.
With regular notices, write-ups and advertisements in local publications including the Gilroy Dispatch, Gilroy Today, Out and About Magazine and the Gilroy Recreation Guide, not to mention A-frame advertising boards set up on street corners and colorful banners plastered around town, “I find it hard to believe that enough people don’t know about it,” said Daniels.
Since becoming the new market manager for the 2012 season, Daniels and other volunteers have focused on implementing a consistent lineup of special events and live music; bringing in more vendors and different varieties of produce; and enhancing aesthetics by adding potted plants and additional places to sit.
While the number of produce booths fluctuates due to some vendors who show up every other week or once a month, the market has always had seven to nine “very consistent produce vendors,” notes Daniels.
Other goodies such as antiques, jewelry, handmade soaps, teas and art are “bonuses,” she said.
“It’s gotta be the amount of people. I can’t see any other reason,” said Daniels. “We’re in our second year. It’s a new market. I believe we’re doing all the right things.”
As for the possibility of joining the California Farmers’ Market Association, which hosts certified farmers’ markets across the state and manages the Morgan Hill farmers’ market, going under that umbrella doesn’t necessarily align with the Gilroy market’s model, which is focused only on featuring local producers within 50-mile radius of Gilroy.
Still, “I don’t know if people care,” said Daniels.
Director Gail Hayden with the California Farmers’ Market Association says it usually takes three to five years, and $25,000 to $35,000 in advertising for a market to catch on. A number of successful, well-established markets that have been around for a long time were started by grants in the 80s and 90s, she added.
Running a market is “more art than science,” she said. “When the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce called us for help (in 1996), they only had six farmers. And look at them today. It has taken a lot to build it.”
The Gilroy farmers’ market opened in June 2011 after two previously failed attempts by other groups to get a local farmers’ market going in Garlic Capital. Daniels is hopeful history won’t repeat itself.
“The market is a good thing,” she said. “I don’t understand the lack of support for that good thing.”

Takes place every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the corner of Monterey and Seventh streets until Oct. 28, 2012.

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