Farmers Market

Market Talk: Interview with Dan Best and Randii Macnear

By Georgeanne Brennan | September 01, 2014
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Dan Best, Coordinator of Certified Farmers' Markets of Sacramento
DAN BEST, COORDINATOR, CERTIFIED FARMERS’ MARKETS OF SACRAMENTO, 11 LOCATIONS

Edible Sacramento Meets Our Region's Farmers Market Leaders

EDIBLE SACRAMENTO: How many farmer/vendors do you work with at peak season and off season?

DAN BEST: With the exception of a couple of bakeries and fishermen, we work exclusively with Certified California Agricultural Producers. Since we have five year-around markets there is no “off season” for us. Throughout the year we usually work with more than 200 different farmers.

ES: How do you choose your vendors?

DB: We are more into the replacement of an existing or returning farmer, when for one reason or another they cease to attend. Then we will look for a replacement grower that may already be in another one of our markets, that is relatively local and that may be registered/certified organic. Placement and entry decisions are based upon space available and product need.

ES: How many staff do you have to assist you in managing?

DB: We have two full-time and three parttime employees.

ES: Sacramento’s Sunday Farmers Market housed in Capitol City Freeway’s W/X streets underpass is one of the four largest in California, along with Santa Monica and Marin. What are the challenges of managing such a large market at the same time as 10 other smaller ones?

DB: Actually, in terms of number of Certified Farmer vendors selling only what they grow themselves, it is the largest in California. At peak season we will have over 120 actual farmers selling at that Sunday market. Most of our other markets are not small, generally 35 to 45 farmers at each. The primary purpose of our program is to help farmers economically sustain their small-acreage family farm. That is the overall challenge.

ES: A 70,000-square-foot mural project, dubbed Bright Underbelly, is under way at the Sunday Farmers Market. How do you think this will affect the vendors and their sales, if at all?

DB: We of course look at the mural as being more of an overhead of our market rather than an underbelly of a freeway. We are positive about the potential possibilities. At the very least it should create a more encompassing ambiance for the activity. The promoters have created a showcase website at BrightUnderBelly.com.

ES: What changes do you anticipate with wine tasting now being allowed at farmers markets? Do you foresee any issues or challenges related to tasting wine at the markets?

DB: We don’t think we will see a dramatic increase in applicants to sell wine in our markets just because there is now the potential of tasting. Our biggest challenge would be to first find the space available for new wineries, since most all of our markets are grower full, and secondly to make space within our existing confinement for them to separate the tasting area from the rest of the market per the requirements of the law.

ES: Sacramento calls itself the Farm-to- Fork Capital of the Nation. How do the farmers markets reflect this, or do they?

DB: Since Certified Farmers’ Markets have been promoting a buy-direct-from-the-farmer renaissance in the state since 1978, I think the farm-to-fork movement throughout the state reflects the success of that movement. Being the capital of California, the state that feeds the world, it is only fitting that Sacramento correspondingly also projects and perceives itself as the farm-to-fork capital.

ES: Do you see farmers markets as playing a role in increasing healthy food habits and choices in areas that are underserved with fresh fruits and vegetables? If so, how?

DB: We have made it part of our purpose to bring low-cost food to underserved areas, especially the areas where demographics show a high number of fixed- or lowincome consumers. But our experience is that most of the time we have been unsuccessful in establishing markets in these areas simply because there were not enough customers to create sufficient sales to make it economically feasible for the farmers to continue to attend. Perhaps more nutrition education in the schools about the personal benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables, along with cooking classes being part of the regular curriculum, would help create more demand for the products our farmers bring to sell. It is the young members of the family that drive the buying choices.

ES: How long have you been the coordinator for the Sacramento markets? What changes have you seen?

DB: Since 1981. One of our original purposes was to create markets that were truly only for the actual farmer selling only what they themselves grew. In the early years our primary customers were senior citizens who wanted to find truly treeripened fruit like they remembered picking from the tree in days past. Now we see the majority of our customers as being young families pushing baby carriages, looking for a healthier lifestyle and start for their children. This aspect has been one of the greatest rewards for our past work.

ES: What future trends do you see for farmers markets?

DB: The present trend seems to be the opening of “farmers market” community events where the Certified Farmers’ Market is a small part of a larger event composed of entertainment, arts, crafts, fast food and beverage vendors. The demand is presently strong and continuing, with every community seemingly wanting one. We do not know whether these types of markets can economically sustain any sizable number of the real farmers participating, since the customers attracted to these markets are more general population types. They are not necessarily the type who buy and personally cut fresh raw ingredients to cook in preparation of their meals. Time will tell.

We will continue to stay true to our original purpose of simply providing outlets for our small-acreage California farmers to sell directly to the urban citizen and farm-tofork restaurants. We may not be as popular with the general public as the community event–type markets, but we are popular with the small but growing percentage of that population that we affectionately call “foodies that cook.

EDIBLE SACRAMENTO: How many farmer/vendors do you work with at peak season? Off season?

Randii MacNear, Executive Director of The Davis Farmers Market Association
RANDII MACNEAR, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE DAVIS FARMERS MARKET ASSOCIATION AND MARKET MANAGER OF THE DAVIS, UC DAVIS, SUTTER DAVIS HOSPITAL FARMERS MARKET

RANDII MACNEAR: There is no peak season for us. The Central Park Market is busy year round. Our highest sales are in November and December. Kale is just as peak season for us as tomatoes and corn.

ES: How many staff do you have to assist you in managing the markets?

RM: I have three half-time staff, and three or four assistants for the Wednesday and Saturday markets who work a couple hours a week.

ES: How do you choose your vendors?’

RM: Our mission these days, with a vengeance, is farm fresh. Our goal is that everything edible sold at the market—ice cream, smoothies, pops—everything relates to a farm and the season. We are trying hard to support smaller emerging markets and farmers. Our smaller markets, such as the one at Sutter Davis, are good for vendors with less product. We try very hard to get Yolo County farmers, if that is what they do in life, not if it is just a little bit of extra someone has. We have a waiting list, and Yolo County is a priority, then as local as possible.

ES: What changes do you anticipate in your markets with wine tasting now being allowed? Will you be adding more winery vendors to your markets? Do you foresee any issues or challenges related to wine at the markets?

RM: We only have only one wine person at both the Wednesday and Saturday markets. We have had more, but it has been difficult for them to sell without being able to do tastings or food and wine pairings. I’m expecting more winemakers wanting to come in.

ES: Sacramento calls itself the Farm-to- Fork Capital of America. How do you see the Davis Farmers Market and its vendors as part of this, or do you?

RM: Farmers markets are the original farmto- fork instrument and our market here, and Dan Best’s in Sacramento, are among the earliest. We’ve been doing farm-to-fork for a long, long, time. All the base work for farm-to-fork has been done over more than 30 years, and now you see farm-to-fork everywhere in magazines and restaurants.. It’s about the vision and the education rather than the name.

ES: What are your challenges as market manager?

RM: Two main challenges: How do you present the message and vision? What is going to make a visitor to the market change from “Oh, this is so cute!” to “I have to buy all my food here.” How to bring them to the place that buying at a farmers market becomes part of who you are—an expression of your values? How do you get through to people at this level?

My other challenge is the fact that we have a lot of people going into farming, but it is very challenging for me to have room for them at the Central Park Market. Everybody wants to be at a successful market like this one.

ES: The Davis Farmers Market is a destination. Visitors can get drinks, prepared food of all kinds, see their friends and participate in activities and special events. Are you seeing an increase in visitors purchasing fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and fish or is this on the decline?

RM: Fruit and vegetable sales are on the upswing. Famers are selling out. People are finally getting that when you are listening to music or eating a hot dog, farmers need to be at the top of the list. That is why we want ALL prepared foods made from the market and that helps provide visitors a true farm experience.

ES: Do you see farmers markets as playing a role in increasing healthy food habits and choices in areas that are underserved with fresh fruits and vegetables? If so, how?

RM: That is a link not made as yet. I think cultivating small farmers and encouraging them to start their own markets in underserved areas may be the way to go. In California a farmer can open his or her own market, and we market managers at larger markets could act as a resource for them.

ES: You have been the market manager for more than 30 years? What changes have you seen?

RM: One of the things that has been really satisfying for me in Davis is to see how many more students are coming to the market. I’m beginning to see more customer loyalty and beginning to see people shopping at the market as part of their values.

ES: What trends do you see?

RM: Organic still continues to be strong, and it’s getting stronger. We’re seeing increasing demand for farm-fresh eggs, farm-fresh meats, wild-caught fish, farmstead cheeses—it’s all about farmers, and that includes ranchers, fishermen and cheesemakers.

For more information:
DavisFarmersMarket.com
california-grown.com/Market-times


Georgeanne Brennan is an author, journalist, historian, educator and food policy consultant. She is the recipient of both a James Beard and a Julia Child Cookbook Award, and is frequently called upon as a speaker. She lives on a small farm in Winters with her husband. For more information, georgeannebrennan.com

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