IT’S TIME FOR BENICIA FARMERS MARKET

by Christina Strawbridge with updates by Mary Hand

THE HISTORY

Benicia Certified Farmers Market opened in 1993 with much anticipation and excitement. The lead up to the opening on Thursday, June 3 took planning and community involvement. Community members lobbied and petitioned for 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 management of 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 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 Loakimedes, the President of the organization, to SLO to check out how this established market works. It was concluded that (like SLO’s market) 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.

Tomatoes for sale at the Farmers Market

THE LOCATION

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, Main Street’s job was everything from recruiting farmers and vendors, to scheduling entertainment, traffic mitigation, working with state and county agencies along with the set up and take down each week. They 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.

THE PEOPLE

In more than 3 decades there have been some memorable characters that gave the Benicia Certified Market, shall we say, 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? And let’s not forget Gloria from Two Days Jewelry. 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 with Diaz Farms as a close second.

The Benicia Certified Farmers Market opens its 32nd season one week early on Thursday, April 18th from 4-8pm April-August, and 4-7pm September-October 24th. Located on First Street between B and D Streets, the seasonal market offers farm fresh produce along with arts and crafts vendors, specialty foods, baked goods, and numerous gourmet food vendors. There’s always music, whether an acoustic act or DJ Bob Flournoy. Children can enjoy activities like face painting and the inflatable bounce house on the First Street Green. 

Benicia Main Street continues to run the show with Nancy Martinez (Executive Director) and Deborah Housman as market manager and their volunteers, including Mike Caplin who is Board President. 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!