The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market Turns 20

May 14, 2013


CUESA turns the corner on 20 years of running a world-class market and has big plans to continue to cultivate a sustainable food system through education and advocacy.

San Francisco, CA — This month, CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture), operators of San Francisco’s iconic Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, will celebrate the market’s 20th anniversary.

The market started at a time when San Francisco was still reeling from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. A group of forward-thinking developers, restaurateurs, food producers, and architects wanted to breathe new life into the city. They formed the San Francisco Public Market Collaborative with a vision for a grand public market on the waterfront. Initially the port and city resisted the idea, doubtful that there was sufficient interest.

On September 12, 1992, the collaborative organized the one-time Ferry Plaza Harvest Market across the Embarcadero from the Ferry Building. It drew tens of thousands of people.

Sibella Kraus, one of the founding members of the collaborative, founder of CUESA, and current president and founder of Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE), recounts, “The Harvest Market was such a success, that we got permission to do the seasonal market in 1993.”

The market soon became a symbol of the city’s resilience. “The market did a lot to revive energy and activity and helped heal the city after the earthquake,” remembers Patricia Unterman, chef and owner of Hayes Street Grill, and a founding board member.

From the beginning, the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market played a critical role in the evolution of the Bay Area’s food culture and the farm-to-table movement. In 1993 the market was one of just three farmers markets in the city; today, there are nearly 30 markets a week. The market also created a standard for farmers markets across the country, demonstrating the value that such activity can bring to a community.

Over the years, the market has served as a key link between the city and local food producers, supporting numerous small businesses, farmers, artisans, and chefs. Many of the sellers in the market have been there since the beginning.

The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market has also helped to cultivate a new crop of farmers. Children who grew up in the market are returning to their family businesses with new vision, creativity, and the dedication to sustainability that inspired their parents. Ian Garrone has farmers markets in his blood. He was nine when his family started Far West Fungi. As he’ll tell you, “I learned to count at the farmers market.” Garrone now runs the family’s shop in the Ferry Building Marketplace. Far West Fungi is just one of thirteen stores in the Ferry Building Marketplace that got their start at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

The market has provided numerous new businesses an opportunity to grow a passionate audience, while at the same time allowing them to test and market their products. Iconic businesses incubated at the market include: Cowgirl Creamery, Acme Bread Company, Blue Bottle Coffee, Tacolicous, and Fatted Calf.

Chefs are central to the market community, with over 300 chefs – representing the Bay Area’s most celebrated restaurants – shopping there each week. On any given Saturday, it’s a who’s-who of the best chefs in the city, from Michelin Star to James Beard Award winners to the most exciting up-and-coming chefs. 

Staffan Terje, chef and owner of Perbacco and barbacco, and current CUESA Board Director says, “The Saturday market is the highlight of the week.” He continues, “The market is integral to the chef community in San Francisco. It’s a place for exchanging ideas. I always return to the restaurant inspired and if I have to miss a Saturday, I feel like I’ve really missed out—it’s something I really look forward to each week.”

This captive audience of chefs and discerning home cooks has come to expect and demand the very best.  David Winsberg of Happy Quail Farms, who has been selling at the market for the last twenty years, says, “Part of what’s fabulous about the Ferry Plaza is that it has become an artisanal market. Everyone is at the top of their game, and that’s really valued by the shoppers.”

This is consistent with the market’s initial goals and beliefs. From the beginning, the San Francisco Public Market Collaborative imagined that the market would cultivate community and serve as a place to connect city dwellers, avid home cooks, and chefs with local farmers. As Sibella Kraus recounts, “If I think back to the language in the 1994 promotional brochure, where we imagined the San Francisco Public Market as a ‘showcase for our region’s extraordinary agricultural bounty,’ that’s really what it’s become. It’s obviously directly important for the vendors and the shoppers, and it’s a real point of pride for the city.”

Beyond the incredible bounty that can be found at the market year-round, at its core is the operating principle of education. Education has been central since the market’s founding, when the Cooking for Kids and Seasonal Celebrations programs were introduced.

After 20 years of growth the market continues to host Seasonal Celebrations most months, in addition to free cooking demonstrations in the market every Saturday from February through November. CUESA also offers farm tours and panel discussions. Over 400 local school children come to the market each semester for Foodwise Kids, a hands-on class where the market becomes the classroom each Tuesday afternoon. Schoolyard to Market is now in its fifth semester and teaches students from three local high schools how to grown and sell produce and all the skills sets in between.

CUESA has ambitious goals for the future. Dave Stockdale, executive director, explains, “We are proud of our contributions to San Francisco’s reputation and draw as a great food city and we want to continue to grow the demand for local sustainable foods. With plans to expand our education programming beyond the market and into the community, we hope to reach and inspire more and more people each year. We will also expand our advocacy work and to have a stronger voice in policy that supports farmers and food artisans.”



CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) is dedicated to cultivating a sustainable food system through the operation of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and educational programs.

Stay in touch:
Email: CUESA’s Weekly E-letter
Twitter: @CUESA
Facebook: CUESA and Ferry Plaza Farmers Market