Aidells Sausages out of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Ferry Plaza Farmers MarketI love living in San Francisco. In what other major city does the ouster of a sausage vendor at the farmers market become a platform for public debate?

First of all, a little background: This week, the Chronicle reported in a column by CW Nevius that the Aidells booth at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market was being asked to leave by the end of the month.

Aidells is the popular sausage company that was begun in 1983 by Bruce Aidells. In her book Comfort Me With Apples, Ruth Reichl recalls first meeting Aidells, having no idea that one day he would become the "sausage king of America." Fast forward nearly thirty years, and Aidell's is a $20 million operation with sausages available in your corner store. Aidells sold his interest in the company in 2002.

Each year, CUESA, the organization that oversees the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, assesses the applications of all market vendors (they must reapply each year) and makes decisions about what vendors will participate in the market. Needless to say, a spot at the Saturday market -- one of the biggest and most lucrative markets in the country -- is highly sought after, and participation in the market can bring a farm or purveyor into the spotlight.

CUESA takes this responsibility seriously. The vendors who have come into the market recently -- Drinkwell Soda, 4505 meats, and Catalan Family Farm, for instance -- are small business with fantastic, sustainable products and a ton of potential.

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The ouster of Aidells is causing a public outcry, replete with signature gathering and a threat of protest by a sausage-dressed human this Saturday.

All day, every day, I make difficult decisions about what I am eating: whether it is sustainably grown, whether it was produced well and whether the people who grew it were treated correctly. The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is one place that I would like to go where I don't have to think about whether the food I am purchasing meets with my exacting standards -- I know that the vendors have been vetted by a full-time staff who has my best interest at heart.

This morning, I wrote an email to CUESA executive director Dave Stockdale (dave@cuesa.org) thanking him for making the tough decision:

"A 10-year market shopper here saying that I support your decision to move Aidell's out of the Saturday market, leaving space for smaller, more sustainably-run vendors. When I go to the FPFM, I want to know that you have done the work for me -- asked the tough questions of vendors -- and that I can trust everything I buy there. I appreciate your making sure that all vendors meet the strict FPFM standards."

I don't think that Aidells is a bad company, and neither does CUESA. An email from Stockdale stated,

"Aidells is a story of success. They started with us as a small local company. They are now a national brand with annual sales reported in excess of $20-million, whose products are available in 46 states, including 31 stores in San Francisco and several area farmers markets. We are proud to have been one of the early venues for the company's products and we're thankful to Aidells for helping our market becoming a success. We see our market as an incubator for local businesses, and we want to use our limited space to provide this same opportunity to other local companies."

CUESA is simply trying to stick to their own mission, which is to shine a light on impeccably produced food from the best our region has to offer.

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Further reading:
If Aidells is out at the Ferry Plaza, shouldn't Scharffen Berger have to go too? SF Weekly, 01/21/10
CUESA makes its case against Aidells. SF Eater, 01/21/10
Hotdogging earns Ferry Plaza booth an ouster. SF Chronicle, 01/19/10

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