Farmers Market – Growing (And Grousing)

Spring garlic at the Hot Harvest Nights farmers market in San Carlos

Three pressing questions spring to mind on the subject of Hot Harvest Nights.

First, why does the wind kick up just in time for the start of our weekly farmer’s market?

Second, why do people bring their dogs?  Do they not see the “No Dogs!” signs everywhere?  (Dogs are a complete distraction for a “dog person” like myself who can hardly pay attention to the spring onions when there’s, like, a boxer puppy with a gem collar hanging around).

Third, Hot Harvest Nights looks different this year.  Some familiar vendors are missing.  Then there’s that rumor the San Carlos Chamber of Commerce “took over” the event.  Had the chamber staged some sort of coup d’etat?

David Bouchard, the chamber’s CEO, was all too happy to clear up any confusion.

“It’s always been the chambers event,” he explained.  “We’ve been the sponsor from the beginning along with our corporate sponsors.”

The chamber, said Bouchard, came up with the idea eight years ago (before his time) and not having the experience of running such a complicated event, contracted with The Pacific Coast Farmer’s Market.

So why, after a successful run, make a change?

“We came to the conclusion the chamber could do all the work,” said Bouchard, after observing how the cities of Millbrae and Burlingame manage their own markets.  In Redwood City, the Kiwanis run the event.  “After looking at other markets it just made sense.  Why not do it ourselves?”

Indeed, why not?

The Laurel Street Spy heard local merchants complain they weren’t able to set up a booth just yards from their own storefronts, blaming the application process at Pacific Coast.  This seemed to add insult to injury as these very merchants lose business when Laurel Street closes to traffic.  (The only places making out, noted several business owners, are the restaurants and wine bars.)

Bouchard says running the event puts the chamber in direct control of deciding who gets to sell their products at Hot Harvest Nights and allows for more flexibility, like opening up to more specialty food vendors on the west side of Laurel.

Still, not everybody is thrilled.  Some vendors told the Laurel Street Spy that opening up the market has meant not only more booths and increased competition for dollars, but over-representation in product categories, something Pacific Coast tried to avoid.  For some, this has led to fewer sales.  As one vendor put it, people only have so much money to spend at a farmer’s market and by the time they get to him (or her), they’ve run out of cash.  Farmers and vendors must clear the upfront fee to get into Hot Harvest Nights and any expenses for getting to the market, plus the weekly charge for setting up a booth to turn a modest profit.  (Perfect timing; the Laurel Street Spy observed a chamber staffer with a clipboard collecting said charges during the event).

While the chamber was able to recruit many of Pacific Coast Farmer’s Markets vendors back to San Carlos, some decided not to return.  You don’t have far to look if you’re missing a certain favorite.  The PCFM still runs the Belmont Farmer’s Market on El Camino near Safeway.

Expect a larger footprint for Hot Harvest Nights.  While Pacific Coast had 40 vendors, the chamber reports it has 62 and is expected to add another eight within several weeks.

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