I now worship every Sunday morning at the Marin Farmers’ Market. Yes, it’s a twenty miles away, but a combination of my nempimania and improved skills has kept my gas mileage over 50 MPG since i moved to Petaluma, so i don’t feel too bad about driving forty miles to attend my current favorite farmers’ market. Actually, i’m downright smug about that gas mileage, and i got great pleasure over seeing Carol’s jaw drop when i was driving us to lunch last week and she noticed that i was sporting 54 accumulated MPG for the last 350 miles. See, we Priusers compulsively check each others’ mileage, it sitting there on prominent display. Grinding up those steep hills in San Francisco drives your mileage down into the upper 30’s, so of course she was impressed. But that’s not why i’m writing.
No, this post is about old friends at the Marin Farmer’s Market. I’d mentioned buying there from Nash Dweik, Walter Bulk, Lou Iacopi, and John Lagier, with all of whom i go way back; but this morning there were two new delightful encounters.
I’d been through all three aisles featuring fresh produce but had skipped the aisle that has only ready-to-eat foods. Our promised second winter rain was a no-show, and the morning was so lovely that i gave the fourth aisle a try.
Glad i did, as i’d barely got into it when i spotted St. Benoit’s stall. I’d been buying liters of their unhomogenized Jersey milk at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market since their beginning just a few years ago, and it was a pleasure to see them in Marin although it should not have been a surprise since this is where their dairy is located. Picked up a bottle of the milk, of course.
And then, just beyond them, a familiar face. It was Mona, the beautiful young woman from whom i bought my Afghan products for years at the Castro Farmers’ Market. She’d missed me in the city, was delighted i’d found her up here, and happily sold me a whole wheat spinach bolani.
Oh, but it got better, a few steps farther i saw another familiar face, Kathleen de Wilbur’s, and sure enough she was in front of her sausage stand. And then she noticed this old fart standing there in shocked astonishment, recognized me even though we hadn’t seen each other since 2010, and rushed to hug me. I also had a grilled sausage on a potato bun. Still delicious.
Some backstory here. The Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market first started operating in the spring of 1993 in front of the Ferry Building on the parking lot where the Embarcadero Freeway had been torn down. It was an immediate success thanks to the fine produce and the excellent prepared foods sold by vendors like Kathleen, who started peddling Bruce Aidell’s sausages, packaged or grilled to order on a bun, back when he was in the early phase of his success story. In those days he sometimes put in appearances at the booth, and i got to meet him.
The farmers’ market was such a success that the following year the originators reorganized themselves as CUESA and continued adding vendors. Then the parking lot was ripped out for the extension of the F-Market streetcar line to Fisherman’s Wharf and the construction of the Muni stop, so the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market moved to a parking lot at Green and the Embarcadero, where there was more space and where it remained until reconstruction of the Ferry Building was complete in 2003 and the farmers’ market could move to its permanent home fore and aft of the building.
As the acclaim of the market grew, so did the market, and within a few years it had expanded to occupy the space along the southeast side of the building. The northwest side of the building is not suitable for use by the market – being narrow, windy, and in near perpetual shadow – so the market cannot expand further.
And that’s a problem because even though CUESA has continually raised stall rents, everybody wants to sell there, it being a very popular market at which you can make lots of money if you’re selling the right product. So a while back they instituted a policy of giving vendors one year contracts and requiring them to reapply every year. This allows CUESA to exercise greater control over the vendors, especially since the criteria for admission are continually evolving.
Which means that as of 2010, the Aidell’s sausage booth got the ax on the grounds that Aidell’s had grown to a large company. What this ignores is that while Kathleen sells Aidell’s sausage grilled to order, there can’t be an operation much smaller than her stand, just her and one helper. Still, the sausage is tainted because Aidell was successful in making a very popular product, so Kathleen got the boot.
Look, i so applauded CUESA’s goals that i donated money to them back when i had a lot of disposable income, but at some point it seems to have lost its humanity. Quite a few people in SF sympathized with Kathleen in 2010, enough that CUESA’s executive director, Dave Stockman, felt obliged to write a justification of its actions that was a masterpiece of corporate doublespeak. You can click on that link to read it, but here’s his best line, showing exquisite dramatic irony, “We are proud to have been one of the early venues for the company’s products and we’re thankful to Aidells for helping our market become a success.”
Ummm, yes, Kathleen was here for us since that first summer back before CUESA even existed when the original organizers sorely needed new vendors. Then, after the originators created CUESA the following year, she stayed with us through thin and thick for sixteen more years, and now it’s time to show our gratitude. Well, except that times have changed, and now she needs us rather than our needing her. So we’ll just compost her and return her nutrients to Mother Earth.
Meanwhile, a shot looking east at the foot of C Street. A home for Mr. Stockman? You decide, but we’ll need to put in some more pilings to keep him from slithering out between them.