Part of what makes Marin great is its many farmers’ markets … and Brigitte Moran’s job is to make those farmers’ markets first rate. “Right now, about 5 percent of Marin residents shop at a farmers’ market,” says the San Rafael–Dominican resident. “Our goal is to get 10 percent of Marin shopping at farmers’ markets.” Moran is the executive director of Agricultural Institute of Marin, formerly Marin Farmers’ Markets, the nonprofit that sets up markets at the Marin County Civic Center (Thursdays and Sundays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., year-round), on Novato’s Grant Avenue (Tuesdays, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., May to September) and in Fairfax’s Bolinas Park (Wednesdays, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., May to September).
“And on June 5, after five years of planning, we opened our fifth farmers’ market in Marin County; it’s the first market we’ve opened in over 15 years,” Moran says. “It’s in Marin City at the Gateway Shopping Center and open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., June through September.” Why shop at a farmers’ market? Moran clicks off the reasons: “Food is fresher and tastier, no more than 24 hours from being picked to being sold.” Also, according to state requirements, the person selling the product is the person (or closely aligned with the person) who raised, caught or grew what you are buying, or an employee of that farmer. “So you know, on a first name basis if you wish, exactly who grew your lettuce or strawberries or veal or oysters and where they are coming from,” she says. “And if you appreciate local family farms, the best way to support them is to shop at a farmers’ market—it eliminates the middleman.”
Moran, who immigrated from France’s Brittany and Pyrenees regions to Marin as a youngster, directs a staff of 14 full-time and six part-time team members at the Agricultural Institute of Marin, a 501(c)3 organization. “We also operate markets in Hayward, Fremont, Newark and San Francisco’s Stonestown Galleria,” she says. Other Marin markets, which Moran is not associated with, are at Tam Valley on Tuesday evenings; Corte Madera’s Town Center on Wednesday afternoons; Ross Valley and downtown San Rafael on Thursday evenings; Mill Valley at midday on Fridays and in Point Reyes Station on Saturday mornings.
Do Marin farmers’ markets, the ones you organize, sell mostly fresh produce and products that have been raised, caught, and/or produced in Marin? Namely West Marin? Unfortunately, not—Marin is mostly a dairy county. Of the 169,000 acres in agriculture production in Marin, only 1,500 are in row crops—all of them organic. And that’s where we get our fresh leafy vegetables, strawberries, carrots and potatoes—in addition to our great West Marin cheeses and sweet butter. Also, at most of our markets, you’ll find McEvoy’s olive oil, Allstar Organics’ spices, and meats from Marin Sun Farms. Other farmers drive in from 26 different counties—Mendocino to Santa Barbara. Many come from Sonoma County and several from California’s Central Valley. At our market at the Civic Center, now in its 27th year, nearly 200 purveyors—farmers to bakers to candlestick makers—show up; it’s the state’s third largest market and draws as many as 12,000 shoppers every Sunday morning.
What controls are placed on farmers and/or purveyors wishing to sell their product(s) at one of your markets? The person doing the selling must either be the farmer, a member of his or her family, or someone regularly employed by the farmer. This idea of “direct from the producer” also applies to prepared food and art. In addition, we’re working closely with our local ranchers and fishermen to develop clear guidelines for meat and fish. We want unparalleled transparency regarding the food being sold at our farmers’ markets.
Who are the sellers shoppers can expect to see at a Marin farmers’ market? Let’s see, in addition to the ones already named, there’s Bellwether Farms; Amber Oaks Raspberries; Fabriques Delices, (pâtés and sausages) Kashiwase Farms; Hales Apple Farm; Marshall’s Honey; and Full Belly Farm. That’s just a few. Don’t forget, these people have to work on their farms as well as sell what they produce; so the same ones aren’t at every market.
Do they make money? Some make several hundred, some make well over a thousand dollars at a single market. It is a huge benefit to these small family farms to take home the full retail dollar. Ours isn’t a percentage operation; they each pay us $40 for their space and we provide the organizational and administrative support, insurance and facilities, as well as signage, advertising and the music that always makes for a family-friendly environment. In addition, we offer educational outreach at schools and hospitals regarding the value of eating healthy local foods purchased direct from the producer. Don’t forget, these small farmers, food purveyors and artisans work hard; we want to do what we can to support them. Our goal is their success.
Who are the customers of Marin farmers’ markets? Many local chefs are the first to arrive. Comforts in San Anselmo, Fish in Sausalito, Marché aux Fleurs in Ross and Whipper Snapper in San Rafael are a few of our Marin regulars. You could say our farmers’ markets are where “eaters” from all walks of life come together, chefs meet farmers, farmers meet consumers and, assuming they meet our requirements, entrepreneurs can grow their businesses. Sol Food, the favorite of everyone in San Rafael, got their start at our farmers’ market; so did Flourchylde Bakery in Novato, as wells as Souley Vegan and Phat Matt’s BBQ in Oakland. Mostly, our customers are families, seniors and singles—by that I mean … everyone who eats!
Each market is pretty much a reflection of the community where it’s located. Our farmers’ markets are buzzing with activity; they’re fun to experience firsthand. People can always go to marinfarmersmarket.org to get an idea of what we do.