Dangling crystals, bad poetry and political theater...
The social challenges of running a farmers' market stall

The protestors and cranks at an urban farmers' market thrust Andy inot delicate merchandizing dilemmas and make him eager to return to the sweet country life.

By Andy Griffin


Mariquita Farm

Location: Land in Watsonville and Hollister
Years farming: Andy has farmed for the last 20 years in various capacities from farmworker to owner, from large farm to small.
Total acres farmed: 25
Key people: Andy, farmer and rave king; Julia, farm wife, CEO, mom, email elf, etc.; España, foreman, tractor driver, all around repairman; Jose España, head harvester; Lourdes Duarte, head vegetable packer
Range of crops: greens, root crops, tubers and herbs, berries, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, melons, artichokes, and more besides that.
Marketing methods: CSA and 1 farmers market, with a small number of carefully selected restaurants that pick up at the farmers market
Soil type: silty loam
Regenerative practices: cover cropping, crop rotation, fallowing
Length of season: all year

August 31, 2004: The Honorable Willie Brown was mayor of San Francisco when that city hosted the US Mayors conference a number of years back. A breakfast was held for the visiting dignitaries down on the waterfront next to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. It was a clear, beautiful morning as the nation's mayors gathered around their tables for speeches, prayers, and croissants.

I had an immense pile of tomatoes for sale nearby. A number of protestors attracted by all the dignitaries but denied access to the breakfast approached my market stall. "Do you have any organic sauce tomatoes," an activist inquired, " ones, to throw at Da Mayor?"

This remains one of the very few times I have ever refused a sale.

When taking people's money I try to be as democratic as possible. But as much as I hunger for a big wad of dollars in my hand I know that I'm only allowed to sell my produce in town by the grace and good humor of the authorities. It seemed like bad karma to involve myself in the tangled mystery of San Francisco's politics by becoming the supplier of ripe tomatoes to anarchists of dubious social standing.

In San Francisco, farmers markets have become one of the few avenues by which the public can experience a connection, however vicarious or ephemeral, with the production of their food. True, shoppers here are unlikely to encounter a scene as visceral as that of a steer, skinned and dismembered, displayed for sale on the street piled upon its own hide as I saw in the Tarija, Bolivia, farmers market -- but they can talk to a farmer. For farmers the market, besides being a welcome source of income, is also a place to socialize and see how the other 98 percent lives.

The market is often the high point of my week. But constant exposure to the unfiltered public has its downside. Every village has its idiot but in my fifteen years of selling in open air markets across central California it seems as though my own community of Santa Cruz is especially blessed. When I think back on the very few customers I have ever"fired," almost all of them were at the Santa Cruz market.

There was the fellow who always wanted to pay for his purchase with a spontaneous poem. I like to support poetry so one day I asked him for a few lines so I could judge their value. It turned out he specialized in violent misogynistic rants. But I can get that for free off a public bathroom wall any day, so no deal.

Then there was the guy with the crystal. He'd show up every week dangling a quartz crystal from a fishing line over the produce display in a trance "reading" the vegetables for positive energy before making a purchase. “Bad energy,” he’d say, pointing to one cabbage. “Good energy,” he’d murmur, indicating another. When he tried to get a read on my head I invited him to take his shopping elsewhere.

Finally there was the time the market was threatened by protesters protesting the threat of nuclear holocaust. In fairness to Santa Cruz, the folks responsible for this stunt were not local talent but had been bussed in by the organization Food Not Bombs from Berkeley.

For a public consciousness-raising demonstration these anti-nuclear war protesters came to the market en masse then "fell down dead" to dramatize nuclear apocalypse. The prostrate bodies of the “victims” made shopping an obstacle course. This theater of the absurd didn't raise any eyebrows in Santa Cruz, but eventually the growers asked the manager for help to get the protesters removed so sales could resume. When she asked them to please exercise their first amendment rights by lying dead at the edge of the parking lot so nobody would trip, they jumped up and started yelling "fascist!"

On days like this I’m reminded that one of the profits I take home from the farmers market is a renewed appreciation for my quiet, uneventful life in the country.

Previous Journal Entries

August 17
You can keep your lemonade...
Life gave me elderberries, not lemons, and that's just fine with me, says Andy.

August 2
Garlic Snakes
Andy discovers how his first-ever planting of stiff-necked garlic got it's scientific name and stumbles upon another marketing gimmick--spicy serpents.

July 20
Keep Rollin' While the rest of the world savors basil and tomatoes, Andy gets pumped up to plant parsnips. It's all part of the cycle.

July 2, 2004
Keep Truckin' Stop! Put that plastic truck (or other piece of marketing swag) down and back away. Think smart promotion to keep your small farm in the public eye.

June 2, 2004
Kinky Carrots It's astounding to what uses Andy Griffin's farmers' market customers will put his kinky, crooked carrot culls. Every carrot has a home.

May 11, 2004
Ain't I smart? Carelessness, poor planning and neglect leads Mariquita's Andy Griffin to discover the true value of a strange old heirloom crop--black Spanish radish.

April 20, 2004
Hats off to the many sombreros of a farmer Quack lawyer, truck driver, fake chef, and borderline carnival barker: all in a day’s work for a farmer like Andy Griffin … and once in a while he gets to contemplate nature.

April 2, 2004
The watermelon radish: Conspiracy from the left or the right … or just a darned good heirloom daikon? Those were among the suspicions raised by this ancient veggie at a recent event in Santa Cruz designed to introduce consumers to local food producers.

March 4, 2004
Guerilla garlic
Battling the influx of cheap Chinese garlic—even in to Gilroy, the “Garlic Capital of the World”—Mariquita Farm grows green spring garlic, and banks its garlic dollars long before the garlic festival in July.

February 13, 2004
New riders of the purple goosefoot In Watsonville, California, the founders of Mariquita CSA discover the value of this antique cousin to spinach.

March 23, 2004
NOW is the time for shameless self-promotion He can't plant, cultivate or harvest--the fields are a swamp--but Mariquita's Andy Griffin can sell shares and hustle publicity.