Friday, September 21, 2012
San Diego has joined the ranks of cities with a public market. Seattle has one, the historic Pike Place, and San Francisco has the Ferry Building. An indoor market with permanent food and produce vendors will open in San Diego next spring. The first phase is under way and open to the public.
On a recent Sunday morning, shoppers lined up in front of a freshly painted (orange!) warehouse in Barrio Logan.
It was early, and many had coffee in hand. An Izumi-outfitted cycler clearly out for his morning exercise perched on a bike, detoured.
They were blocked from entering the warehouse by a large orange ribbon spanning the warehouse entrance.
Catt White and Dale Steele, co-founders of the San Diego Public Market, stood in front of the ribbon, armed with scissors, ready to deliver the ceremonial slice.
“Farmers and vendors, are you ready to get growing at the Sunday market?” yelled White. Cheers followed, the ribbon was cut, and shoppers let loose among the produce.
Just three weeks ago, this former boiler warehouse was empty and dirty. After a lot of elbow grease and scrambling, the 92,000 square foot property was transformed into a farmers market, the first step toward the overall goal of a year-round public market.
A public market is not a farmers market, though they share a lot in common.
A public market means there will eventually be permanent stalls selling food and produce. It will be open all day, six days a week. Think Pike Place in Seattle, Philadelphia’s Reading Station Market, or London’s Borough Market.
“It’s crazy that San Diego didn’t have one,” says co-founder White. "We have a year-round growing season and a really vibrant food scene. This is the perfect place for it.”
More than 100 public markets are currently in operation in the United States, many of them established in the last 25 years.
San Diego’s version will open next spring. Until then, the farmers market will be held every Wednesday and Sunday. The warehouse can hold up to 88 vendors, selling everything from fresh produce to gluten-free cookies.
David Foster mans The California Olive stall and occasionally pours golden liquid through a spout onto morsels of bread in tasting cups.
Foster grows olives in San Felipe Valley and then processes them into olive oil for his family business. He says San Diego’s Mediterranean-like climate is perfect for growing olive trees.
“We start harvesting in the fall, anywhere from October to the end of the year,” says Foster. “We want to catch the trees when they have the right amount of ripeness and then process the oil as quickly as we can, typically within six hours of harvesting.”
Farmers markets are great for chatting with local growers about how they make their products. There’s more interest than ever in where our food comes from, driven by national foodie trends, celebrity chefs and the popular cable channel, The Food Network. There’s a built-in, some might even say obsessive, audience for all things food.
“There are twice as many farmers markets than when I started this concept,” says co-founder Dale Steele. “There are better restaurants, more inventive chefs and people really see food as recreation.”
Physician Linda Firestein writes a local food blog. She drove down from Del Mar to shop. She says San Diego should have opened a public market a long time ago. “It’s so overdue. I go to a lot of the other farmers markets. Some are better than others. Sometimes the vendors come and go and you never really know what you’re going to get, so a permanent market is encouraging.”
The founders of the public market set up a Kickstarter campaign in August to fund the building’s renovation. They raised $146,000, well above their $92,000 goal. “This is such a big community thing,” explains White. “Those that pledged on Kickstarter put it on their Facebook page and then they put it on their Facebook. Social media really kept this thing going.” The market has an active Twitter feed and Facebook page.
This fall, White and Steele have to decide who gets a permanent stall in the public market. A lot of San Diegans have shown interest.
“One chef heard from somebody and he told other chefs who told other food purveyors,” said White. “We’ve done a lot of tours, everything from microbreweries, to the guys from Tender Greens who want to do salumi to the woman who owns Venissimo cheese who wants to come make cheese on site.”
Barrio Logan, where the market is located, is sometimes called a food desert. Steele says the market will help bolster the surrounding community. “There needs to be healthy food options here. The businesses around here could use some buoying. We’re excited to help do that,” explained Steele.
The market already has a new mascot: A large cow sculpture sits in front of the entrance. A few days before opening, White spotted the cow in a neighbor’s yard and asked to borrow it. It's been a surprising hit, with a lot of families and kids posing for pictures with the cow.
“We’re thinking about having a contest to name it,” says Steele.
The farmers market at the San Diego Public Market is open Wednesday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The market is located at 1735 National Avenue.