The SLO Farmers’ Market started in 1978. It had humble beginnings with about ten vendors that would gather on Saturdays at Young’s Giant Food parking lot on Broad Street.
Today, the SLO Farmers’ Market is held on Thursdays, which is a great way to start the weekend in SLO. Higuera Street is now the home to the Farmers Market. It is blocked off from traffic from 6 PM to 9 PM. The information booth is right in the center of the Farmers’ Market. To the west, you will find vendors that are preparing food. There is a vast array of foods. The line for the Barbecue was long, so I am guessing it must be outstanding! I was wearing a white shirt that day and didn’t want to take the chance of getting sauce all over it. You know, because those things happen, and I didn’t have a Tide pen with me. Who am I kidding? I would have needed to wash my shirt. Just as a reminder, if you are a little messy and like barbecue, don’t wear a white shirt.
There was so much fresh food that was being cooked for families that were coming downtown. There are funnel cakes, teas, and kettle corn. I had to have some of Mama’s Meatballs, and I didn’t get anything on my shirt. The taste of those meatballs is a harmony of flavors. The texture is pleasing, and the taste of the spices dancing on my tongue is blissful. I couldn’t say no to G Bros Kettlecorn either. Walking around observing the people and throwing a couple of pieces of sweet/salty popcorn in my mouth was utterly satisfying.
I met Whitney Chaney downtown, and she is the program director for downtown SLO. I asked her several questions, and she gave me the scoop on all things “Farmers’ Market.” She told me there are 30 to 40 vendors that offer beverages at the Farmers’ Market. Everything from water, soda, iced tea, boba, Thai tea, lemonade, and non-alcoholic cocktails. The food lineup is American, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Global Fusion, fresh produce, and desserts. As we walked in the middle of the street, it almost felt like an old-fashioned street fair. There were not just locals but people from all over the world at our BIG little farmers’ market. She says there are about 7,000 people currently that come each week. Whitney tells me that people are encouraged to bring their bags, and if you are close enough, try an alternative means of transportation. The Farmers’ Market has a free bike valet. All the vendors are discouraged to sell single-use plastic or serve food in single-use containers. Vendors are encouraged to utilized biodigradable (such as bamboo) or other alternative packaging or sell reusable bags. Plus, there are recycling bins throughout the market to collect cans and bottles.
Whitney told me that all downtown businesses are given automatic approval to join our market. Anyone that meets her can see her passion for the downtown events and how the farmers’market impacts the lives of the local farmers. She says that the farmers work hard at educating customers and visitors about how to take sustainability to heart and implement it in their daily lives. She also tells me that there are new vendors and entertainment weekly. She loves creating spaces that people can gather and connect to their community. Her advice to patrons visiting for the first time is to walk the entire market first, choose a few food items, listen to some music, and pick up produce to take home. All your purchases are going to farmers and small businesses within this community.
I asked her about Covid and how it affects the market as well as her personality. Whitney told me how hard it was on the families that depend on selling their produce at the Farmers’ Market. They were not allowed to operate at all because of the restrictions. The downtime allowed Whitney to focus on communication and outreach. “If anything, it heightened the value I put on the event and how important it is to our community and those who visit.” She said that they have been operating at total capacity since June 17, 2021. She says she is happy that so many vendors could come back and share what they sell to the community. More are planning to return as things improve with the Covid situation.
There are a few things that Whitney would like to change, which are more funding and access to programs like EBT and Market Match. She believes the essence of SLO is the community connection and how it enriches the lives of those that come out to visit the Farmers’ Market. We all are connected, and the community is tied to food. We want to get to know the people growing our food and take that home to enjoy. That kind of connection makes a community stronger.
If you want to learn more about SLO Farmers’ Market go to downtownslo.com there you will find the entertainment for the week, and what vendors will be there with a map!