CCCFM celebrates 30 years of good food and community
By Barbara Kobsar
The longest-running nonprofit organization to operate a farmers’ market program in Contra Costa County is about to turn 30. Contra Costa Certified Farmers’ Markets (CCCFM) was brought to fruition by a small group of Master Gardeners and horticulture students from Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill. The first farmers’ market set up its stalls in 1982 at the Hillcrest Shopping Center parking lot at the corner of Taylor and Morello in Pleasant Hill.
Farmers selling their produce directly to consumers is nothing revolutionary; what makes the farmers’ market concept so successful is the meeting place it creates for that activity. Under regulations first established by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, a certified farmers’ market is a venue approved by the county agricultural commissioner where certified farmers offer for sale only those agricultural products they have grown themselves. In the early years, California had only a handful of certified farmers’ markets. Today the state leads the nation in farmers’ markets, with 729 locations, up from 580 just last year.
CCCFM managed the Pleasant Hill market for 27 years through seven relocations to its current spot at City Hall. Pleasant Hill schools were the first to benefit from CCCFM’s community outreach program. Thanks to its nonprofit status, the organization secured grant funding for two school gardens: Troy Spencer Memorial Garden in Pleasant Hill Middle School and the Pleasant Hill High School Garden. To continue its mission to promote healthy eating, CCCFM also established a salad bar at Strandwood Elementary in 2005.
The now year-round Sunday Walnut Creek market opened in conjunction with the Pleasant Hill market. Its initial location at the back of the main library parking lot adjacent to the creek was an idyllic setting, but majestic oak trees hid the market from passing traffic. Relocation to the front of the library lot at the corner of Broadway and Lincoln proved the key to success. In January 2008, when construction of the new Walnut Creek library began, the market moved again, this time to North Locust Street. Now, every Sunday at that location, one finds dozens of eye-catching displays of fresh produce, first-class artisan foods, baked goods, seafood, friendly staff and vendors, and plenty of free parking.
With the support of the City of Orinda, CCCFM opened the Orinda Farmers’ Market in 1997. Although limited in size by traffic-flow patterns on Orinda Way, this market is a very popular gathering spot for families eager to shop for their weekly fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, baked goods, and specialty products.
In 1998 CCCFM founded a Thursday market on Main Street in Martinez and in 2001 opened a Sunday market in the city’s downtown that brought a renewed interest to the area and became a destination for locals and visitors alike.
Changes I’ve witnessed over the years at CCCFM are many, and mostly positive. Original markets saw only the grower (or family members) arrive with a truckload of produce to sell to customers. These days, many farmers set up at multiple markets each week and sometimes more than one per day, so they have to rely on employees to transport and sell their produce. Fortunately, the employees tend to be quite knowledgeable about what they’re selling, so I’m still content to shop.
A few of CCCFM’s charter members continue to work at the markets: Stan Devoto from Sebastopol still sells apples and flowers, and Jessie Neu (at left), who once sold plants from her “From the Ground Up Nursery,” is still on hand, but as executive director of the organization.
Information booths are a relatively new phenomenon at the markets, and their tables hold everything from brochures on sustainable agriculture and nutrition to special event schedules, recipes, market bags, Edible East Bay magazines, and gift certificates. Shopper suggestions are welcomed by an on-site market manager at the booth and have resulted in a wider variety of offerings, such as artisan and ready-to-eat foods, more organic produce, and seasonal crafts.
In recent years, food banks have established relationships with growers and vendors to pick up produce and baked goods for distribution to the needy. Sponsorships are now offered to local businesses interested in promoting health, wellness, and sustainable environmental practices.
CCCFM’s website (www.cccfm.org ) has a complete list of growers and vendors, contact information, and a very handy seasonal chart as a guideline to what’s available at the markets. You can also find CCCFM on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.
Enjoy, and see you at the markets to celebrate 30 years in the East Bay!
Barbara Kobsar (pictured at right) is a home economist and 21-year veteran journalist who promotes the enjoyment of in-season produce. She has also authored two cookbooks focusing on traditional home-cooked meals using local produce. She spends part of every week at the East Bay farmers’ markets scoping out fresh produce. When not roaming the produce aisles, she is at her market stand selling Cottage Kitchen jams and pepper jellies she makes from farmers’ market produce.