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Residents Set Up Farmers' Market on 24th Street
By Corrie M. Anders
It may not have the abundance of the Alemany Farmers' Market, nor the classy architectural setting of the Ferry Building Plaza. But the new Noe Valley Farmers Market will have its own juicy, homegrown flavor.
Starting Dec. 6, thanks to a group of local activists, six handpicked vendors will sell organic fruits and vegetables on Saturday mornings from 8 a.m. to noon in a corner of the Noe Valley Ministry's new parking lot at 3865 24th Street between Vicksburg and Sanchez streets. Rev. Keenan Kelsey of the Ministry is scheduled to bless the market on opening day at a 10 a.m. ribbon-cutting. There also will be music and entertainment for children.
Last month, the city's health department gave the market a 13-week permit to operate at the Ministry's parking lot. If all goes well, organizers say, the market could become a year-round fixture, though at another neighborhood location--perhaps James Lick School.
"People are just thrilled that Noe Valley is going to have its own farmers' market," says 24th Street resident Leslie Crawford, a volunteer who helped organize the al fresco mart. "It's just another reason to love Noe Valley and the people who live here."
It's been tough to get organic goods locally since the abrupt closing in August of the 24th Street branch of the Real Food Company (also called Fresh Organics), which many Noe Valleyans felt had one of the best produce sections in the city.
But now, neighborhood residents can sample the food grown by farms scattered throughout Northern California. "I will have chard, kale, Napa cabbage, bok choy, tha tsai, burdock, parsnips, and Brussels sprouts," says Ken Orchard, of Orchard Farms. "Starting in January, I'll have white cauliflower and Romanesco broccoli."
Orchard operates a spread totaling 40 acres of certified organic produce in the Sebastopol area. "Certified" means his vegetables are grown in soil that is free of pesticides or petroleum-based fertilizers.
Orchard says that even with a 5 a.m. wakeup and an 80-minute drive to San Francisco, he is looking forward to offering his wares in Noe Valley.
"I think the need for urbanites to have direct access to organic vegetables is very important," he says. "I think everybody in the city will really benefit from the weekly experience of buying directly from a producer" whose goods were harvested the day before.
In addition to Orchard's vegetables, Noe Valley shoppers will have their seasonal picks of lettuce, squash, leaks, cabbage, carrots, turnips, apples, peppers, herbs, and vine-ripened tomatoes, cultivated by at least five other farms.
In the near future, farmers' market organizers hope to add fresh breads, eggs, and other farm staples to the lineup. It's unlikely, however, that many additional farms will be invited to participate at the parking lot location.
"We're a little squashed for space," says Crawford. That's because the needs of the commercial parking lot will limit the amount of space available for other uses.
Merchants Hope Parking Won't Suffer
Last month, the buzz around the neighborhood left no doubt that the market would be a hit. But some merchants worried that its popularity would create traffic congestion in Downtown Noe Valley.
Crawford offers her assurances that it will not. "This is not going to be a destination spot for people from other neighborhoods," says Crawford.
Still, parking was a concern raised by members of the Noe Valley Merchants Association at a Nov. 23 meeting with market organizers.
"I think the farmers' market is a really good idea," says association president Carol Yenne. "But our endorsement is with the idea that this is temporary" in the parking lot location for 13 weeks. "They can't go past that."
Yenne says the merchants would prefer that any long-term farmers' market "be located at James Lick or St. Philip's [neighborhood schools], where we don't normally use parking."
James Lick is indeed under consideration as an alternative site. "We are investigating the possibility of relocating there," and the group is holding discussions with school officials, says Eric Viscito, another market organizer.
From the Ashes of Real Food Co.
The birth of the new marketplace was precipitated by the convergence of two disparate events--a closing and an opening.
The first came on Labor Day weekend when Utah-based Fresh Organics, Inc., abruptly shut down the Real Food Company and laid off 30 of its workers. Employees claim they were fired because they were trying to organize a union. Fresh Organics, Inc., a subsidiary of vitamin and nutritional supplement manufacturer Nutraceutical Corporation, contends the store was closed for remodeling.
A dozen or so neighborhood activists, including Crawford, Viscito, and Elizabeth Street resident Peter Gabel, met almost weekly during September and October to find ways to support the employees.
A new entity, the Noe Valley Farmers Market, emerged from those meetings. (The group now has a web site: noevalleyfarmersmarket.com.)
"This is a close-knit community that doesn't sit back passively, but rises to a challenge when it's presented to us," says Crawford. "And what could be more of a positive response to the long-term shutdown of Real Food than an open-air neighborhood market selling healthy, locally grown food?"
Toward a Health Food Store
The next task was to find a home for the market.
At the time, the defunct Dan's Auto Service was in the final stages of a long-awaited transformation into a commercial parking lot. The new lot has 29 parking spaces and, according to a Ministry spokesman, is scheduled to open for business sometime in December.
Farmers' market organizers asked the community-oriented Ministry for permission to locate on the lot--and the church agreed to let the market use a portion of its space for four hours each Saturday. Vendors will pay a fee to use the parking spaces they occupy.
"The farmers' market has two goals," says Gabel, who has been intimately involved recently in several neighborhood issues, including the successful effort to save the Cover to Cover bookstore from bankruptcy.
"With Real Foods closed, it will provide organic food to the community," he says, "and the second goal is to support the workers who were terminated."
The work of building a farmers' market, adds Gabel, "may well be the first step in creating a progressive health food store in Noe Valley."
FARMERS' MARKET VENDORS
Here's a list of the farms that will sell produce on Saturdays between 8 a.m. and noon at the new Noe Valley Farmers' Market, on 24th Street between Sanchez and Vicksburg streets.
Happy Boy Farms
Greens, squash, leeks, chard, kale, cabbage, carrots, and turnips
Knoll Organic Farms
Herbs and greens
Pistachios, walnuts, almonds, and dried fruits
Marshall's Farm Honey
American Canyon, Calif.
Mellow's Nursery & Farms
Apples, tomatoes, peppers,
Broccoli, leeks, parsley, bok choy, chard, cauliflower, kale