New Farmers Market Fills the Work-Week Void
Raquel Peña is a farmers market connoisseur. Most Saturdays she shops at the markets in Little Italy or Vista. Occasionally she’ll drive up to the market in Irvine. On Sundays she hits Rancho Santa Fe. Now her mid-week shopping is taken care of at the new Downtown Encinitas Market. Of course, she doesn’t go to every market every week. And, of course, she is the manager of a couple local farmers markets, so she is there on business as well as produce-purchasing pleasure. But still, you can see how she knows a thing or two about farmers markets and what makes them work.
She knows the sales side—the part where the perfectly ripe zebra tomato changes hands from farmer to home cook—as well as she knows the production side. Because not only does she go to seemingly every market in a 100-mile radius of her home in Carmel Valley, but she also visits the farms of all the farmers that sell their produce at the markets that she manages, and she sees that zebra tomato delicately twisted from its vine after months of babysitting.
So when Peña says, “We need more mid-week markets,” it is not only because she recently began managing the new Downtown Encinitas Market on Wednesdays. It is also because she’s attuned to the wants and needs of the constant market shopper. Mid-week markets “are the answer,” Peña said. “You always run out of food by Tuesday or Wednesday.”
Encinitas can now join the crowd of similar-sized seaside towns with multiple farmers markets each week. On Saturdays, Paul Ecke Elementary School in Leucadia plays host to farmers, artisans, chefs, musicians, and the occasional knife sharpener. And, each Wednesday, the Encinitas Station on the corner of Vulcan and E Street comes alive with seasonal produce.
Aside from Peña’s experience and obvious enthusiasm, the new farmers market owes a good portion of its existence to Carris Rhodes, the former Events Coordinator at the Downtown Encinitas Mainstreet Association, who pushed through a year and a half of negotiations about permits with the city to see the market move from thought to reality.
“We’d heard that people wanted a mid-week market,” Rhodes said. “Other cities had a lot of success and a lot of other coastal communities have multiple markets. It seemed odd that we didn’t have one.”
The Wednesday market is smaller than the Saturday market—there are forty vendors instead of seventy—there isn’t any hot food to go, and there are fewer people selling crafts. “I like farmers markets to be more business,” Peña said. “Still friendly and available, but with a focus on the farmers. They come from a long way away. They work hard. It’s important to maximize their time here.”
The farmers were in turn excited to be a part of a market so focused on keeping the farm in farmers market, and, as Rhodes is quick to point out, “they know Encinitas is a good demographic for them.”
Weekend markets tend to be mellow affairs. A sunny Saturday begs for leisure. Weekdays are different: there are only a few precious hours between work and family time. It’s lucky that the new market has a manager that understands the differences inherent in the timing of the two types of schedules. “Everyone needs somewhere to shop after work to help them complete their week of shopping,” Peña said.
That doesn’t mean things are all business. After all, Peña is focused on education just as much as she is on farmers—hence all the trips to the farms. She has chef demonstrations in the works and has been talking with Solace restaurant, Whole Foods and Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria about putting on events in conjunction with the market.
Peña and Rhodes are also working hard to make the Wednesday market a plastic-free zone. There are currently no single-use plastics and all the vendors are given biodegrable produce bags to distribute to customers. “One baby step at a time,” Peña said.
So far the community has been supportive of the new market. “It took a long time to get going,” said Rhodes. “But it was well worth the wait.”