Change Is the Only Constant

May 11, 2007

Summer is on its way, and the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is changing. Cherries and peaches recently reappeared, and we’ll see the first blueberries this weekend. Tender summer squash is soon to be followed by the rest of the summer produce we so eagerly anticipate. In addition to these seasonal cycles, the market has also faced some more challenging changes. In the past twelve months, the Saturday market has lost five long-time farmers. Sally and George Oliver (Cache Creek Farm) and Wally and Nancy Condon (Small Potatoes Farm) retired from farming. Ruth Hoffman of Hoffman Game Birds transitioned into semi-retirement, reducing the size of her operation. Mariquita Farm withdrew from the market to concentrate on CSA and restaurant sales, and Fitzgerald’s, because of declining sales, chose to scale back to only one farmers’ market. These departures, especially the most recent two, have led to some speculation and fear about the future of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. In this article, we hope to address some of these speculations and invite your feedback on how we can make your shopping experience better. 

CUESA’s goal is to support innovative local farms and to connect consumers with fresh, sustainably produced food. It is deeply disquieting to us to learn that some farmers aren’t making enough money to justify their attendance of the market, though others have seen steady increases in their sales. We are also concerned that many Ferry Plaza Farmers Market farmers—like farmers across the country—are approaching or are well beyond retirement age and some don’t have plans for younger farmers to take over. But we’re trying to keep it all in perspective. Every farmers’ market is dynamic. Most long-time shoppers can probably think of many farmers who have left for various reasons since the market’s inception in the early 1990s; from 2000 to 2001, we said goodbye to 10 farmers.

While it’s always hard to see farmers go, we are working to keep the market vibrant by bringing in great new farmers. We’ve recently welcomed our first rice farm, Massa Organics, and Catalán Family Farm, which grows vegetables and strawberries. We receive many requests from prospective sellers—far more than we can accommodate—but we are always keeping an eye out for new farmers with unique and high quality produce.

We are also working to keep our customer base strong by making it easier to shop. When the market moved from the Green Street parking lot to the Ferry Building in the spring of 2003, we encountered a new set of logistical problems. Parking (always a challenge) remains difficult. The Ferry Building is more transit accessible than our previous location, yet our hopeful attempts to encourage people to take public transportation or park and walk a bit farther have had limited success. To help alleviate parking stress, we validate parking for the closest parking lots and have created a Veggie Valet service so that people can leave their purchases at the information booth and pick them up at the loading zone.

Also an obstacle (sometimes quite literally) at our new location is that the market attracts more of San Francisco’s many tourists. We attribute this higher number both to our location at a beautifully restored landmark building and to the increasing public interest in fresh, local, ecologically produced food. In the end, we appreciate that visitors from out of town are interested in our region’s agriculture and hope the market inspires them to support local farmers in their own area. Many regular shoppers avoid these crowds by coming to the market on the earlier end or patronizing the Tuesday market. For all its complexities, the Ferry Building has served our educational mission well and has increased awareness of our market, farmers and mission.

While the market is always changing, some things will stay the same: our commitment to supporting regional agriculture and to connecting urban residents with sustainably produced food from local family farms. Do you have practical ideas for ways to improve the market? We’ll respond to your ideas in next week’s e-letter. Send your feedback to