The year was 1993…
…and with much anticipation the Benicia Certified Farmers Market was born. The lead up to the opening on Thursday, June 3 took planning and community involvement. Decisions were made from the top in response to petitions and lobbying to form a weekly market that would offer fresh produce from local farms while creating a reason to come Downtown on a regular basis. That first market, the rain came down in buckets but Benicia came out in droves to welcome the beginning of an institution for our town.
The City named Benicia Main Street as the coordinator to oversee the development and run the market. Producing a public outdoor event that runs every week for 6 months takes specialized talent. There was discussion about hiring an outside firm representing a consortium of markets and farmers but the case was made that it was important to keep our farmers market independent. The Council approved a one time amount of $25,000 to Benicia Main Street. It would be up to Main Street to finance the ongoing costs through booth fees and sponsors. Much of Benicia’s Market was inspired by (SLO) San Luis Obispo’s Farmers Market which is considered the granddaddy of all farmers markets. Patti Baron, who was the executive director of Benicia Main Street at the time, was accompanied by Mike Ioakimedes, the President of the organization, to SLO to check out how this established market works. It was concluded (like SLO) that Thursday night was preferred because of its recognized importance to retail and that the market would reflect a festival approach with cooked food, arts and crafts, music and entertainment for children.
The location on First Street between D and B Streets made sense as there were plenty of vacant lots along that portion of the street (since then filled in), making it easier to maneuver trucks and tenting. It also drew customers all the way down the street to shop. As market managers, our job was everything from recruiting farmers and vendors, scheduling entertainment, traffic mitigation, working with state and county agencies along with the set up and take down each week. We were very fortunate to have Richard Bortolazzo and his Coldwell Banker realtors volunteer to man the Main Street booth, welcoming market goers as well as punching frequent shopper cards. Another fixture of the market was Adobe and their workforce which helped set up and take down the large equipment and clean up at the end of the evening. After all these years, they both remain integral parts of the market.
In nearly 3 decades there have been some memorable characters that, shall we say, gave the Benicia Certified Market personality. Who can forget Twee Twee the clown, the white bearded Moses, the egg guy who traveled the market on roller skates, Strawberry the 6’3″ pink bear mascot, cantankerous Jerry who sold oysters from his family farm in Tomales Bay, and a host of vendors that kept the market vibrant and fun? Some of those family owned farms still travel to Benicia every Thursday during the season. Medina Berry Farms from Watsonville is one of the originals. Generations of the Medina family have grown up with our own families, selling the sweetest strawberries ever.
The 2020 Benicia Certified Farmers Market begins on April 30, running from 4PM to 8PM where it all started 27 years ago. Benicia Main Street continues to run the show with Nancy Martinez (Executive Director) and Deborah Housman (Event Manager) with their volunteers at the helm. The popularity of the event has grown through the years with over 3500 customers a week. It has become a gathering place for the community to see their neighbors, buy produce that is direct from the farm and meet the farmers who grow the food. It also is an opportunity to support First Street merchants and restaurants along the way. Benicia, get ready, it’s Market time!
Edit: Due to expanded restrictions in response to COVID-19, Benicia Certified Farmers Market will not open on April 30. The official opening day will be updated when it is announced.