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Feb 7, 2010 01:51 PM

SLO Farmer's Market: The times they are a changin' it

...or the Downtown Business Association WANTS to. Run the show that is.

After 27 years of a farmer-run market (one of the first and most sucessful in the state) the SLO Downtown Farmer's Market will be managed not by the farmers themselves, but by a manager picked by the downtown business owners group, if they have their way.

At the heart of the matter lies the way in which downtown San Luis Obispo faces a dramatic change of character, brought on by costly seismic retrofitting of century-old unreinforced brick buildings, and the need of investors to maximize development. Two new developements in the heart of downtown are altering the streets and changing the face of Farmer's Market by taking street space for sidewalk bulbouts.

As new buildings are developed or older ones rennovated, so-called "sidewalk" seating for cafes and restaurants is being encouraged. The city allows the developer to accomodate the sidewalk seating by taking some of the street in 'bulb-outs'. Very likely, Higuera street (where the majority of the produce vendors are) may be limited to one lane (now three) with parking along one curb. Hence, less room for vendors at the market.

The Downtown Association, which sponsors the street fair, now wants to limit street space previously taken (for 27 years) on Higuera by farmers, and shunt many of the growers to two dimly-lit side streets. They also propose resticting Higuera St. vendors to a no-vehicle selling space. Vendors would have a limited time to off-load their produce, tables, boxes, canopy, signs, etc., then would have to move their vehicles to an area several blocks away, and reverse the proceedure when the market closes. (many of the vendors are coming into SLO from the afternoon Morro Bay market and this time constaint will create difficulties.) When the Farmer's representative, Peter Jankay, told the association that the farmers were opposed to the changes, he was given no options.

The Downtown Ass'n delivered a letter to the farmers at the close of a mid-January market telling them that the Ass'n was taking over management of the market. This did not sit well either with the farmers or the very supportive local patrons of the market. A hearing was called at the next city council meeting, and both parties have agreed to have arbitration.

I hope that the physical changes coming to downtown SLO will not seriously alter the flavor and accessiblity of the farmers' part of the street fair. They are the heart of the market, always have been, and the downtown businesses are foolish if they believe they will have a market without the farmers whole-hearted participation.

If you want to see the Farmers retain management of the Farmer's Market, now's the time to speak up.

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  1. The controversy was very evident last Thursday when the count of vendors was about half of normal. Many long time regulars were notable absent.
    Lets hope thing get settled soon and we have the visitors and locals return.

    1. Today's paper indicates they have reach some agreement and we'll be bacck to normal soon.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Bruce in SLO

        sorry Bruce, your recent comment wasn't showing up when I posted mine below. But to borrow a phrase from my past, now chowhound is in stereo!

      2. Today's newspaper reports a deal has been struck returning the operation of the produce sales area back to the Farmer's Market Ass'n. No details of a re-designed market were given; this may come out in future months as developments alter the streets and circulation of downtown SLO.

        But for now, the Farmers group is happy, and that makes their supporters happy.

        1 Reply
        1. re: toodie jane

          Just an update for summer visitors: in addtion to the Thursday evening downtown street fair and the Saturday morning market off Madonna Rd, SLO now has two new markets to bring the total to four days a week. All markets go year round.

          1) original market on Higuera St Thurs evening
          2) Madonna Plaza market @ Cost Plus World Market lot Saturday at 8 am
          3) new market on Tank Farm @ Kennedy Fitness Sun morning
          4) new market Tues afternoon on Broad St @ The Grange Hall