Noe Valley Voice February 2004

Most Think Farmers' Market Is Just Peachy

By Liz Highleyman

Neighborhood residents out and about on Saturday mornings have seen a new sight along 24th Street during the past two months--shoppers laden with bags of fresh fruit and vegetables from the Noe Valley Farmers' Market.

The market, which debuted Dec. 6, runs from 8 a.m. to noon in the Noe Valley Ministry parking lot on 24th Street between Vicksburg and Sanchez. John Friedman, who is among the event's organizers, says the market is "growing nicely" and has drawn well over 1,000 visitors each week, after a high of more than 2,000 on opening day. About a dozen farmers typically set up shop each Saturday.

After the sudden closure of the 24th Street Real Food Company in late August, Noe Valleyans immediately set out to create an alternative source for organic produce, one that would be uniquely suited to the neighborhood. The new open-air market not only has food vendors offering such things as honey, nuts, kale, zucchini, root vegetables, and dried fruit, but it also features a live band each week.

"I'm so proud that a neighborhood like ours can respond so quickly and pull something like this off," said Noe Valley resident Yvonne Keene while wandering among the produce stands on a recent Saturday. Her two young sons, Austin and Alexander, seemed to be enjoying themselves as they tore into a satsuma orange. "They like the music," said Keene, "and they love the free samples!"

The Noe Valley Farmers' Market is currently operating under a temporary 13-week permit that will expire at the end of February. Organizers say they are in the process of applying for a permanent permit and have collected several hundred signatures from neighborhood residents who want to keep the market at its current location.

To achieve this goal, the Friends of the Noe Valley Farmers' Market is seeking both donations and volunteers. "If everyone in the neighborhood gave just one hour, one morning per year, we'd do okay," said organizer Lee Jacoby.

So far, the new addition to the neighborhood has gotten rave reviews from shoppers. "Everybody coming has been enthusiastic," said Leslie Crawford, one of the market's first organizers. "It has added so much to our community."

And several nearby merchants are enthusiastic. "I love it," said Martha Monroy, who operates Martha and Brothers coffee shop across the street. "It makes Noe Valley feel like a small town. I think it should stay forever."

But not all store owners are pleased. Daniel Phelps, who with his wife operates the French Tulip on 24th Street near Sanchez, said farmers selling flowers at the new market have cut into their business.

"The farmers are selling at less than wholesale prices," he told the Voice. "Noe Valley rents are not cheap, and there's no way we can compete."

Phelps is especially worried because Valentine's Day--the most lucrative time of the year for florists--falls on a Saturday this year. "If the farmers sell roses, it will hurt the flower shops badly," he said.

Other neighborhood merchants have expressed concern about the loss of parking during farmers' market hours, although as of late January the lot was not yet open for public use.

"We're generally happy to see something new and exciting in the neighborhood, and it's connected a lot of people," said Noe Valley Merchants Association President Carol Yenne, who had just returned from the market with her purchase of apples. "This 13-week trial is good. Then we can review it together and decide what will work best for the community."

"We know there have been some complaints, and we've been actively responding," said Crawford.

"We're a group of volunteers trying to make Noe Valley an even more vibrant place. Our purpose is to strengthen the community, not compete with merchants."

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