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KPBS Midday Edition

San Diego Public Market Plan Gains Momentum

Catt White and Dale Steele
SD Public Market
Catt White and Dale Steele
San Diego Public Market Interview
Hear about the move to make Seattle home to its own Public Market!
GUESTS:Catt White, co-founder San Diego Public Market Dale Steele, co-founder San Diego Public Market

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It seems every few months another farmer's market springs up somewhere around San Diego County. Local food and local food events have become very, very popular. So the next logical step is a huge public market downtown along the lines of Pike Place market in Seattle. Two San Diego women are actually in the process of making a market like that happen in downtown San Diego. Catt White manages forms markets in the neighborhoods around San Diego. She is the founder of the new San Diego public market. WHITE: Thanks Maureen. CAVANAUGH: And Dale Steele is a cofounder of San Diego public markets. Thanks for coming in. STEELE: Thanks Maureen. CAVANAUGH: So is this the next logical step in San Diego's love affair with local food? WHITE: Oh, absolutely. It's surprising that it wasn't the first step! Most cities start with public markets that have existed for 100 years, and they build up around that. We have gone the other direction. But there are 57 farmers' markets in neighborhoods around San Diego now. We don't have a consolidated community gathering place, and a place that pulls together foods, local artisans and is open early and late into the week. CAVANAUGH: How did you guys say now is the time? We're going to pull this off and do this. WHITE: Dale thought it was the time for a dozen years now. [ LAUGHTER ] CAVANAUGH: Really? STEELE: Yes, I started with this concept in January of 2,000 after visit something relatives in Columbus Ohio, and the family meeting up at north market in the middle of their downtown, and thought why in the world do we not have such a thing in San Diego? CAVANAUGH: Is it a usual thing? A common thing for a city the size of San Diego to have a public market like the one that you're creating? STEELE: Yes it is. And in fact, we are one of the few major cities in the country and in the world that doesn't have a public market. And we have the largest number of small farms in the country. WHITE: And an all-year growing season. We have more access to fresh produce than anybody. CAVANAUGH: How will this be different from a farmer's market? I think many people are familiar with the whole atmosphere of a farmer's market. How will it be the same and how will it be different? WHITE: It'll be kicked up a notch. And we'll have a couple of weekly markets at the public market. If you look at the ferry building or Pike Place in Seattle, they have their standing shopkeeper, and a day or two a week they bring in farmers who come in with a tent and set up. But most farmers can't commit to a seven-day a week shop space. They've got to spend time on the farm. CAVANAUGH: They've got a farm! WHITE: Right. And everything goes up a notch. If you look at the little Italy Mercado, we have cheese people, fishmongers, but they can only do so much in terms of cooling and storing when they're in a tent, in the sun, outside. So letting them move in and take a small shop space allows them to put real refrigeration equipment in, they can cut meat on-site, it just takes it one more step. CAVANAUGH: You've already rented the space; is that right? STEELE: We have. CAVANAUGH: Where is it? STEELE: It's in Barrio Logan, just next door to downtown. Just a stone's throw away from the Convention Center, and Petco Park, and the library, and Gaslamp. And I've been in that neighborhood, actually, I have an office since 2008. It's a terrific, terrific area. CAVANAUGH: And I've been calling it a warehouse. How big is the space? WHITE: Well, it's 92,000 square feet all together, and it's not just a space. We can create not just a market hall as they have in some city, but a real market district. So the hall that we're working on now is a great big old boiler factory. It looks like a big old warehouse, but there are several other buildings on the property, and open spaces where we can create plazas, and houses where we can make working artists' studios and cafes. It's a variety of buildings on this property. A little more than 2 acres. CAVANAUGH: Take us into this, if you can, and give us a real visual description. What do you envision the San Diego public market is going to look like when it's all up and running? And dale, perhaps you can start. STEELE: It faces National Avenue, the public market building which we will refer to as the food hall. That's the big boiler building. And that will be sort of the biggest edifice that will be seen. There will be a nice sign that will be on that building, seen from most of the city. That has two great big roll-up door, and when they're open, you'll see all of the permanent vendors in there. To your right, you'll see the four small cottages that you'll be able to wind your way thing, artists and retail art. To the left of that will be some other vendors, but that will be the opening to the big plaza. Then as you cross the alley, there'll be restaurants and cafes. We're thinking of doing an air stream trailer, that would be a retailer, some -- WHITE: Shipping containers dotted around in there, and a nursery so the trees and plants wind around as you explore and find what the next place it. And that's also where the commercial kitchen will be. CAVANAUGH: Commercial kitchen? WHITE: We've got an old office building that's on the space that we're repurposing into an active commercial kitchen so we can incubate new businesses. We'll be able to make spaces to the farmers, we'll have dry and cold storage, and that's where our education will be based to teach kids to cook with healthy foods, all the way up to continuing it for chefs. CAVANAUGH: So this is one ambitious project! WHITE: Oh, yeah. [ LAUGHTER ] STEELE: This will be a real civic asset. CAVANAUGH: And I think you envision the idea that the booths, the offerings are going to change, like two days you're going to have produce, and two days you're going to have flowers or something like that. It's going to be a rotation of some kind? WHITE: To some extent of the one of the things we tried to aim for is if you look at a lot of public markets, the produce is sold by the distributors. Because the farmers can't commit. Most of the shop space in the food hall will be permanent vendor, but we're designating a portion of those that will be day stalls that will be rented to people like farmers on a rotating basis. So make JR organics will be on there Monday and Tuesday, and Suzie's farmer will be there on Thursday and Friday. CAVANAUGH: Is there a kind of philosophy that goes along with the creation of the San Diego public market? I suppose you won't be having a McDonald's franchise in the space. [ LAUGHTER ] STEELE: Not so much! No, these will be local producers, farmers, growers. No corporates will be there. This will be -- this is called the San Diego public market. This is for San Diegans by San Diegans. WHITE: And even then, some of the San Diego businesses that have gotten a little bit too big, we're talking to some of those now, and we really can't accommodate them because we want to maintain a veteran fairly small size of shop space. CAVANAUGH: And you also want to bring up some people who are trying to get their businesses started. WHITE: Exactly. STEELE: Absolutely. WHITE: The emerging business is really where our heart is, and we like seeing those folks grow and expand into their craft. And they can do that in a space like this where some of the common areas are shared. CAVANAUGH: You mention that the public market is housed, the complex, is in Barrio Logan. Is that location significant to the mission of the market? STEELE: Well, the significance is that it's close to downtown, it's a very, very central location, if you look at it on a map, we're close to everything that goes on in south bay, everything that goes on in if -- as far up as La Jolla, Rancho Santa Fe, Del Mar, out El Cajon, it's a very central location. CAVANAUGH: Also, Barrio Logan has been called a sort of food desert. WHITE: It is. And we'll be able to bring healthy food to a place that hasn't been well served with grocery stores. The neighbors already love us. Barrio Logan has been a pretty heavy industrial level for a long time, and it's had really active neighborhood group who is have tried to change that and create a buffer between residents and heavy industry. They're happy to see this space that will integrate and work back and forth with the community. They have been warmly welcoming so far. STEELE: Like most industrial area, the facility actually turns its back on the neighborhood for safety reasons and so forth. What this market will do is completely the opposite. It will be open from all sides, it will be a very welcoming community gathering space, and we'll have movie night, and you can have quinceaneras there, and anniversary parties. And this will be the place to come and to bring your family and to meet and greet. WHITE: We have at least one wedding coming up. We have a fund raiser, and on kickstarter, when you donate to a project, you get a reward. If you donate X amount, we will throw a wedding for you on the site, and somebody signed up for that yesterday. They're urban dweller, and they're excited about the idea of having their wedding in the market. CAVANAUGH: You know, equip pike Place in Seattle is a must-see tourist attraction. Is that what you hope the San Diego public market will become as well? WHITE: Oh, yeah, absolutely. This is definitely designed to serve the residences, not only in the immediate neighborhood, south park, Golden Hill, the whole county, but also to be an attraction for people that come from out of town and want to see what we do here in San Diego. And of one of the things we do is we grow. We grow vegetables. We've got a tremendous artisan food culture that's grownup over the years. You'll be able to see people making cheese, curing salami, doing things that we do all over San Diego. We're close to the Convention Center and downtown, so it'll be a convenient area for them to do that. We expect to have a nice blend of San Diego tourists, visitors, and residents. CAVANAUGH: How much is all of this going to cost? STEELE: About a buck and a half. [ LAUGHTER ] WHITE: It keeps growing. It's a big property. On the other hand, one of the things that attracted us to the particular property is that there are great old existing buildings on it, so we can do this in phases. We're actually building on what's already there, which is a green thing. CAVANAUGH: So how far along have you gotten? Have you repurposed any of these buildings, doing any renovation work on the site? STEELE: We sure have. WHITE: We have indeed. We have power washers down there making quit a bit of a mess even as we speak. Wee done all the of cleanup, a lot of weeding and patching. And we have a lot left to do. But we're pretty close at being at a point where the food hall can continue for farmers markets while we continue with construction. CAVANAUGH: I see. So it's going to gradually evolve. You mentioned Kickstarter. You have a fundraising opportunity to Kickstarter. How much are you asking for? WHITE: It's a funny thing. You have to set a goal, and it has to be for a project. So obviously we're not funding the whole 2-acre space on Kickstarter. But in order to get the food hall up and running, the sprinklers in, and the permitting to get things in action, we've asked for $92,244. CAVANAUGH: How'd you coming up with that amount? WHITE: Very scientifically. It's exactly what we need to a certain point. And it was just more fun than saying $90,000. [ LAUGHTER ] WHITE: And the thing about kickstarter, if we don't reach that number, we don't get a dime. The money goes back in folks' pockets. But a lot of Kickstarter campaigns surpass their goal, and right now, it's looking like we have a good chance of having that happen. When we come came in today, I think we were at $78,000. STEELE: I think we were at $88,000. WHITE: So yeah, we're just not far. We get about another $10,000 to go. CAVANAUGH: And what other things are you going to be able to offer people who donate? I know in pike place, there are tiles for people who donated. WHITE: We do have that, naming rights for cottages at a certain level. There's a thing to have a portrait up there. Those are for big donations. We have folks who are donating $12 who will get a package of heirloom seeds, and limited farmers market T-shirt and shopping bag. We have had a slew of culinary institutes who are pledging $1, but there's a lot of them. And that adds up. CAVANAUGH: Do you need volunteers? STEELE: Absolutely. We'll be putting together a posse. WHITE: Yep. CAVANAUGH: And they will be doing the work of preparing the buildings in some way? WHITE: They'll be doing some of that. This is California. Of there's liability issues. But I would imagine they'll help us write thank you notes, and work on our social media campaign, and maybe paint a sign or two. And there's all kinds of things that need to be done that don't involve so much heavy construction. CAVANAUGH: When is the first part of the market, the hall going to be used for the farmer's market that happens downtown? That's the first thing that's going to be unveiled, right? WHITE: That's the first thing. And we're waiting on final permits from the ag and health departments, but it will be opening in the next 2-3 weeks. CAVANAUGH: And when do you see the compete grand opening of this market? STEELE: We haven't set a date. There are too many variables. But our goal is late spring. CAVANAUGH: Late spring of 2013? STEELE: Yes. WHITE: Coming right up. STEELE: Right around the corner. CAVANAUGH: In closing, because I think there are a lot of people very excited about this notion, finally for San Diego, and it is a huge ambitious project, expect dale, what do you hope this market will come to mean for the people of San Diego? STEELE: This is a legacy project. This is something that can go on. You think about pike place, it has gone on for years and years and years. City fathers at one point wanted to tear it down, and the community said no, no, no. People fall in love with these places. It becomes one of those precious places that they meet people, that they get excited about having visitors come in, and they can take them there, and they can learn about where their food comes from, they can take pride in their community, they can meet their neighbors there, and their families there, they can participate in the community. It's a very heart felt project. CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know that if you want to see pictures of what's happening, where this is, what's happening there now, you can go to our website at

Fresh food, cheese and meat made on site, chefs, artisans and even chickens are all part of Catt White and Dale Steele's vision for the San Diego Public Market.

White and Steele are raising funds to create a market like Seattle's Pike Place Market. San Diego's market would rest on 92,000 square feet of property in Barrio Logan.

The women leased the property before all of their funding was secured, and now are over halfway to their goal of $92,244.


White said the market will have longer hours than San Diego's neighborhood farmers markets, but the Public Market will also host two traditional weekly farmers markets.

"This gives you a central location where, in addition to the farmers, you can go a little deeper into food, where you have refrigeration capabilities, so some really wonderful actual artisan food production can take place," she said.

Steele has been promoting the San Diego Public Market for more than a decade. She said response to her idea has been overwhelming.

"Everyone has been so on board, so excited about this," she said.

The women started a Kickstarter online fundraising campaign, which, White said, allows "everyone in San Diego to feel like they have a piece of the market."


In addition to their Kickstarter fundraising campaign, White and Steele have been using private investment, their own savings and "selling our first born children," White joked.

Steele added that because the market will be located in Barrio Logan, which is sometimes called a "food desert," they will hold events to cater to the local community.

Corrected: July 13, 2024 at 2:28 AM PDT
Claire Trageser contributed to this report.