Two years ago, Dr. Preston Maring had an idea: Instead of telling his patients to seek out fresh food, why not bring it to them? He worked with the Pacific Coast Farmers' Market Association and brought 10 farmers to a new farmers' market at the Oakland Kaiser Permanente Medical Center where he works. It's a perfect match: a location where many people are working or going for appointments combined with farmers who want to sell their product to as many people as possible.
"Patients bring strawberries or cherries to their doctors as presents now," says Maring. "People have told me they schedule their appointments on Fridays so they can go to the market." Kaiser now has farmers' markets at numerous sites nationwide, and the number is growing. Maring says that many of the customers at Kaiser's farmers' markets have never been farmers' market customers before.
In a panel hosted by the Commonwealth Club and CUESA last week entitiled "The Future of Farmers' Markets," panelists kept returning to the Kaiser Permanente model as a good example of great way to spread farmers' markets throughout the area. While it's easy to say that a market should open up in every neighborhood in town, farmers only want to go to markets where they will make money, and a built in community such as that at the Kaiser Medical Centers is a good place to start.
It is a commonly accepted thought that more farmers' markets in the Bay Area would be a benefit to the area. Markets often become a gathering place for the neighborhood or town, and the accessibility of fresh food from local farmers is a benefit to the community.
The panel discussion last week was opened with a statistic that all of the farmers' markets in San Francisco are on the east side of town; none in the Richmond, none in the Sunset, and none west of Noe Valley. Starting a new farmers' market is a daunting task as there is a large permitting process, and you may come up against opposition in your neighborhood. Just ask the Marina Merchants Association who were challenged for over a year before settling on a day and location this past Spring.
According to the Farmers' Market Resource Kit published by SAGE, you can estimate that each vendor at a farmers' market needs 55 customers (spending an average of $10 each at the market) in order for a market to be worth the farmer's while.
Think about that number, and then consider the large company campuses that we have in the Bay Area: Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Oracle, Sun Microsystems and Cisco are some of the largest. It would be a natural fit for some of these companies to host farmers' markets on their property. Combine those campuses with the campuses around them, and you get even more employees. If a company such as Yahoo! in Sunnyvale were to host a farmers' market, they could invite their neighbors -- Lockheed Martin, Martin Marietta, and Juniper Networks -- and maybe one of the companies could throw in a lunchtime shuttle to take employees to the market.
The best part of Dr. Maring's story is that he was just one person who wanted to start a farmers' market. It wasn't a committee decision, and there wasn't a large group of people behind the effort -- he saw a need, and he worked to fill it. Creative new ideas for farmers' markets by people like Dr. Maring are the future of farmers' markets.
New Kaiser health care program: health food, San Francisco Chronicle, June 3 05.