Certified farmers go from freeway to Arden
By Tessa Marguerite Outland
With a filled stamp card from The Upper Crust Baking Company, I happily make my way to the Certified Farmers Market under the W/X Freeway. It’s a bright Sunday morning and I’m eager for a fresh loaf of birdseed bread. But when I turn the corner along Southside Park, I don’t see the cars, vendor umbrellas or usual market bustle. It’s empty. Confused, disappointed and breadless, I turn around to walk home.
Had I ventured further under the Highway 50 overpass, I would have found the answer: Posters taped to concrete pillars explained where the market went. A 10-month construction project forced the weekly Certified Farmers Market to temporarily relocate.
The market will be in the parking lot of Arden Fair Mall behind Sears until December.
The farmers market has stretched its leeks and legs in its new temporary location. A note on the Certified Farmers Market website says organizers learned about the construction in early 2020. Market leaders met with the contractor to discuss how the project would impact the weekly gathering. Answer: The market had to move. “The overriding objective throughout is to keep the current market composition intact and sustainably alive until we can return it to its most natural and purposeful habitat where it was created in 1980,” the note reads.
Getting in my car and driving 15 minutes from Downtown to Arden Fair is a small chore for a Sunday morning, but not unbearable. When I reach the area I don’t see signs pointing to the market. My first clue is a man carrying a lush bouquet of blooms. Then the familiar sight and sound of drums being thumped atop a kit of Kelly-Moore Paints buckets.
Without the shadow of the freeway overpass, the Certified Farmers Market appears more open. Many familiar vendors such as Bariani Olive Oil, Spring Hill Cheese and Zuckerman Family Farms line the spacious aisles.
At the market I meet Craig and Candy Roberts, two faithful market-goers just as surprised as I was by the absence of the Downtown market. After a few weeks of wondering, the Roberts learned about the move from a neighbor. The Roberts live in Fair Oaks and both like the weekly excuse to go into the city. “This is closer, but I’d rather be Downtown,” Craig says.
Brittany Parker, another market regular, agrees the former location is more desirable. “We’re hoping that it’s temporary,” Parker says. “Definitely prefer it in Downtown.” Arden is a longer drive for her, but she still makes the trek, reusable bags in hand.
The overarching mood from shoppers and vendors is adaptability, plus optimism that the situation is temporary.
“We’ve been able to get new customers and old customers that are still coming back,” says Jessica Airhart of Shared Abundance Organic Farm. “It’s more spread out and it’s quieter, which is nice.”
After grabbing some chili-lemon almonds at the Winters Fruit Tree stand, I wander to find some cheese.
I meet Charles and his mom at the Nicasio Valley Cheese Company stand. “So far it’s not bad,” Charles says. “I think the crowd of people who live around here, a five-minute drive away, are actually coming to shop. At the Downtown market, the feeling I got is that it was people from Land Park or Midtown just looking for something to do on a Sunday—get a coffee or pastry and just walk around the market. Whereas here it feels like people are coming just to shop.”
Charles has almost doubled his sales at the new location. I buy some of Nicasio’s organic award-winning San Geronimo cheese. It’s stinky and sharp, just the way I like it.
Until the market returns to Downtown in December, vendors hope to see new and returning customers at Arden Fair behind Sears every Sunday from 9 a.m. to noon.
As for me, I have the ingredients to make grilled-cheese sandwiches on my Upper Crust birdseed bread—at least until next Sunday.