Looking to draw more customers, the Harbor Village shopping mall debuts its new Land and Sea Farmers Market this Sunday. The new venture has made the idyllic outdoor markets into a dog-eat-dog competition on the coast.
Featuring crafts, food and music, the new event at the Princeton mall makes no effort to hide the fact that it wants to mimic the successful formula of other popular Peninsula markets and steer some of that traffic to its struggling indoor merchants. Describing the event as a win-win for shops and shoppers alike, Harbor Village organizer David Seaton said the year-round event would give customers more access to fresh fruits and veggies.
“Safeway is open seven days a week, yet farmers markets are only once or twice a week.” he said. “Why limit the supply of local produce grown by local vendors? Why limit that and force people to go to grocery chains?”
The farmers market idea represents a “beacon of hope” according to merchants within Harbor Village, which has had trouble filling its retail spaces since opening in 2008. The newly formed Harbor Village Merchants’ Association is hoping new ideas like the market and a first-time camping event next month can provide a shot in the arm for business.
“A lot of the merchants have grasped this as a little bit of hope to rally around,” he said. “Hopefully it will bring people out to the Harbor Village, or bring back people who haven’t been there in a while.”
But while the new market found no shortage of arts and crafts vendors eager to participate, it has had trouble recruiting actual farmers for its farmers market.
As an incentive for growers to sell their fruits and veggies at an untested event, Harbor Village won’t charge table fees for the first month. Also, the event was scheduled for Sunday so that growers could still participate in other markets on the coast. Farmers from as far away as Hollister and Fresno signed up, but so far, the event has only one grower from the Coastside.
The new venture would be the fifth farmers markets on the coast, which has led some in the agricultural community to say the area is now “oversaturated” with markets. For 10 years, the Coastside Farmer’s Market has organized once-a-week bazaars in Half Moon Bay and Pacifica. Last year, the South Coast nonprofit Puente de la Costa Sur launched its own weekly farmers markets in Pescadero and La Honda.
Seaton blames the lack of local interest among farmers on the Coastside Farmer’s Market and its founder, Erin Tormey. Tormey had earlier declined offers to run the Harbor Village farmers market. But Seaton says the Coastside Farmer’s Market founder then pressured its growers to steer clear of the Princeton market. Only one food producer, the Golden Coast Bee Collective, is participating in both markets.
“The majority of farmers that do (the Coastside Farmer’s Market) said they felt it was a conflict. (Tormey) asked them to do that,” he said. “She views us as competition, and that’s unfortunate.”
Strongly denying any accusations that she had stonewalled her competition, Tormey nonetheless pointed out that she has fundamental problems with the new market. The Harbor Village is a farmers market in name only, she says.
“By the absolute minimum standard, they’re a certified farmers market, and this has the potential to further confuse the public,” she said. “This will dilute what ‘farmers market’ actually means.”
As of last week, the Harbor Village market was slated to have six farms participating in total, but it had more than 20 craft vendors. Tormey contends the market should be classified as a craft fair.
Under California law, a certified farmers market can feature only growers selling fruits and veggies to the public, and it prohibits middlemen from trying to resell produce from other farms. The intent of those rules is to encourage farmers to sell directly to their communities, but one effect is that growers have to devote a lot of their spare time sitting at a market.
Many Coastside farmers say they were reluctant to join the Harbor Village market because they didn’t want to commit their entire weekend to selling their produce. Farmer John Muller said signing up for the new Sunday market would mean he would be working a seven-day week.
“I’m not a big believer in Sunday farmers markets. Families are important to farmers, and I need time to spend with them,” he said.