“Listen,” Sean McAdam says swaggering with post teen macho behind his table of Rainbow Farm peaches, “I’d rather be here than anywhere else. It’s just great!”
“This is hard work, you know,” says Doug Cronyn, pacing in the narrow space between his Happy Boy! Farm truck and tables piled high with fresh salad mixes. “I got up at 4:00 AM to be here today. But this is my regular market now and I like this area. It’s far to come…we’re from Watsonville, but,” he smiles broadly, “people keep thanking us for being here.”
“We spent all day yesterday picking the fruit and packing the truck. Then I got up at 4:30 this morning, but the customers are so happy we’re here,” says Josephine, the young manager of DePalma Farms fruit stand, holding an eye on her rambunctious little niece who keeps running toward the pastry stand. “I brought her with me because she wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge. And now I have to watch her.”
“Well when you get a break, can I have the olives,” an Asian man interrupts, waving money.
“Oh, I forgot to put them out,” the harried Josephine apologizes. “The olives...” She darts to the back of DePalma Farms’ truck, opens a divided carton and pulls out a quart canning jar in which uniformly green olives have been neatly stacked in brine. “We cure our own,” she says, handing the man his booty, “basil, salt and water.”
Home-cured olives, Laotian boiled peanuts, organic salad mix with gaily colored flowers, orchids, cheddar garlic bread, collard greens, even freshly ground almond flour for baking exquisite tortes, they’re all here passing from grower to consumer amid the soulful sounds of live jazz at the new Fillmore Farmers’ Market. The saxophone wails or a guitar throbs the blues and from D. J. Johnson or Chad Minor of Lagier Ranches in Escalon you can buy Bronx, the grapes of the year (anointed by The San Francisco Chronicle), for about half the price John Lagier has on them at the famed, newly fancied Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market. You can get seven ears of fresh picked corn from Ibarra-Cruz Organic Farm in Gilroy for $2.00 too.
This is the dream of the Fillmore Jazz Preservation District folks brought to life by the nonprofit Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association (PCFMA). From Placerville, Fresno, San Juan Bautista, Napa and many points in between, farmers and their friends like Sean, Doug and Josephine move through the Saturday morning dark to the corner of Fillmore and Eddy and by sunrise turn a seedy vacant lot into a cheerful cornucopia. Then from 8:30 to 1:00PM, by bus (Muni Lines 22 & 31), by car (street parking within two blocks is not too difficult) and on foot, hundreds of hungry city dwellers swarm their 25 stalls.
“We’re seeing more shoppers each week,” grins tall and lanky Tom Nichol, market manager for PCFMA which has set up and certified this, the newest of its 25 Bay area weekly markets. Its certification insures that what you buy is what the farm selling it to you actually produced.
“What’s so nice about this market,” Nichol grins all over again, ”is the gratitude of the people coming. Everyone is just thrilled we’re here. And the farmers are thrilled to be here because the people coming are actually coming to buy. They want real food and contact with the growers. This is not a social scene where people go to sip coffee and be seen. This is a working market.”
It’s working both ways. Pacific Heights residents rave about scooping up organic heirloom tomatoes for only sixty cents a pound or bouquets of fresh cut seasonal flowers for only $2.50 while Aida Teklu, manager of the Crepe & Brioche booth, revels in the chance to introduce people to its San Francisco made gourmet breads and French pastries, for this is the only public outlet the bakery has.
“You have to try this,” she says cheerfully, thrusting a raisin hazelnut levain into the hands of a customer praising a feta and green onion loaf bought the Saturday before. The customer asks for that fabulous olive twist Aida’s market partner Donna Heatherington told her to taste two weeks ago.
The market only opened on July 12 yet customer loyalty has become so fierce, Donna sings out from the other side of the tent where she is slipping a fruit tart into someone else’s hands, “We’re sold out again. They’re good, aren’t they?”
Owners Jean-Claude and Catherine Bunand plowed years of experience at other area bakeries into their decidedly French Crepe & Brioche. It’s a family business: their children Elodie and Nicholas work at the Bayview facility along with Alain Durocher who handles the pastry. Aida confesses she is his apprentice.
The two-year-old bakery’s been a wholesale success, supplying special and specialty breads to famed city French restaurants like Plouf, Belden Place, Café de la Presse and Chez Mama Chez Papa. It’s also making ethnic bread for a new Moroccan restaurant.
But Crepe & Brioche hasn’t been successful finding a retail location. “We’ve wanted to have our own café,” Aida confides, “where people can sit and enjoy what we make—and know who we are! This market booth is all we have now but people really seem to be enjoying it. And we just love it because the people who are coming come because they know good food. They appreciate good food. We’re getting a real sense of community.”
An eavesdropper quietly volunteers that she’s just noticed a vacated retail bakery space on the other side of town. Aida’s eyes widen. “But,” the woman says firmly, “I won’t tell you where until you promise that you’ll still come out here even if you open your café.”
Aida plunks a puff pastry onion/olive tart in her hand along with a promise.
Two rows over brothers Wang and Dang, ethnic Hmong, promise to do their best to grow the greens customers want. Bram Her Farm, their family’s farm which special-izes in oriental vegetables, is run by their mother and older brother to whom they carry requests. They, and Wang’s wife shyly sitting in the truck behind him, are Fresno State and Fresno City College students.
Farmers’ markets are Bram Her’s only outlet and this one is helping to finance Wang’s plans to be a firefighter. That’s why every Saturday morning now the brothers get out of bed at 3:OO AM to bring Chinese pumpkin leaves, lemongrass, long beans, baby bok choy, the three-foot long green onions that are their bestseller and bitter melons here.
“Not a lot of people know about them,” Wang says, nodding at a pile of celadon colored corrugated cylinders. “So we help them learn. We tell people how to cook them …and the other things we sell. We give recipes—from our mother which we just tell, and from the internet, which we print to pass out.”
According to Wang, half of his customers are Asian and half “African” and the latter half has been teaching him. “They asked us to bring them green tomatoes, which we never eat, so my mother picks them green especially for this market. And they asked for collard greens which we’d never grown but now we do. See, over there,” he points over the top of a table piled Himalayan high with greens.
“If we get enough requests, we’ll grow anything,” Dang chimes in, adding that they’ll be bringing up hard to find pea greens, aka pea shoots, along with a fresh crop of snap peas in early October. “My Mom just planted them.”
Across the lot, Doug Cronyn says his boss Gregory Beccio, proprietor of the 120 acre Happy Boy! Organic Farm, was the first to market heirloom tomatoes, a farm specialty. Farmers’ markets are the Happy Boy’s main focus: it participates in 29 and has added chiogga beets, rapini, French radishes and myriad gourmet salad greens like peppercress to its stands.
“My interest,” Doug says, tugging on his cap worn jauntily backwards, “is seeing these special foods come to life. They’re all heirlooms of some sort and people can try them. We always let shoppers taste.”
Like several other vendors, Happy Boy! also lets last minute shoppers get good deals. Prices plummet at the 1:00 PM market close and case lots become common.
“We used to compost all the stuff we didn’t sell,” Doug says. “We still preserve some of it like the beets and carrots and of course the cucumbers as jarred pickles we’ll sell in the fall. I’m excited that we now give some of it to the local soup kitchen here and I bring some to Food Not Bombs.
“But the really great thing is our farm is using some of this stuff to make vegetable oil, then we mix that with a little ethanol and we’ve got biodiesel fuel for our tractors and vehicles!”
Foodrunners, a San Francisco nonprofit, also carts away produce at the end. The greens nobody buys from Wang and Dang however go back to the farm, straight to their uncle’s cow. “It’s a five legged cow,” Dang says grinning, “and that’s so special, my uncle is raising that cow for keeps. I can tell you it eats well.”
The Fillmore Street Farmers’ Market has been such a succes fou that within six weeks it spawned a mini spin-off, Friday’s from 10 to 3 at Kaiser Hospital, in the commons area at 2190 O’Farrell. ###