To Market, To Market
The Vista Farmers’ Market has been bringing high-quality, locally grown produce and goods to the community every Saturday morning, rain or shine, since 1981. It began with only a handful of farmers but now offers everything from seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables to meats, cheeses, wine, and flowers, as well as clothing, jewelry, and soap, among other things – all sold straight from the people that grew or made each product. Read along as we talk with Market Manager Mark Wall about the history of the market, its role in the community, the types of vendors and products offered, and what you can expect if you’re headed to market on a Saturday morning in Vista.
Q&A with Market Manager Mark Wall
What is the history behind the Vista Farmers’ Market?
The Vista Farmers’ Market was started in 1981 by a small group of farmers to take advantage of a new law that allowed farmers to sell what they grew directly to customers – until then it was illegal for farmers to sell direct!
What is your role with the market?
I am the market coordinator and I keep all the moving parts flowing by working with the farmers, foodmakers, customers, and inspectors. I am also in charge of all of our special events. On any given Saturday morning it is not uncommon for me to hear, “There he is! Go ask Mark; he’s the one wearing the large, white-brimmed hat and the suspenders.”
My other hats, while not quite as fashionable, keep the market functional. I take care of all of the licensing and requirements that make the market a market. I work directly with inspectors to make sure the food and produce being offered is of the highest integrity and that farmers are really farmers. I also balance the amount of farmers and foodmakers with the amount of shoppers so that there is a vast variety offered to heighten the shopping experience without overwhelming it. I coordinate special events at the market and work with organizations, charities, and local groups to enhance awareness in the community we serve. This role is one that requires me to listen, pay attention, and discern. This allows the market to flex and grow in accordance with the needs of our courageous farmers, our creative makers, and the valued community we not only serve but are an active part of.
At-A-Glance Market Manager Mark Wall
Name: Mark Wall
Favorite Spots in Vista: Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum, Vista Library, Vista Farmers’ Market at 8 a.m. on Saturday mornings
Tell us more about the mission of Vista Farmers’ Market, specifically its goal to help farmers keep farming. Why is this important?
Farmers feed us. And farmers are still going out of business at an alarming rate. Without local food we are a less resilient community in economic, health, social, and a myriad of other ways.
Does the market partner up with any local organizations or businesses?
The Vista Farmers’ Market tries to say yes to as many groups, people, and businesses as possible. We have a monthly event that is open to a wider variety of entrepreneurs than a strict farmers market is allowed to have. Each year we have a Kids Market where children can experience the world of business at its most basic – developing a product and display, and selling directly to eager customers. The market hosts four Wellness Fairs that highlight a diversity of health modalities and providers. We also work with local nonprofits on their fundraising activities.
How has the market evolved since its opening?
The market began with a handful of farmers, many with exotic and subtropical fruits, and has grown to include many longtime and new farmers who raise a stunning variety of food and farm products – fruits, vegetables, honey, meats, cheeses, poultry, wine, olive oils, baked goods, vegan and gluten free items, fresh eggs, flowers, a huge variety of plants, and local fish. We also have vendors that offer a variety of hot and cold foods ready to eat, along with a select few artisans who make clothing, jewelry, cutting boards, pottery, and handmade soap. The Vista Farmers’ Market served as the model for most of the farmers’ markets that followed in the county.
How many vendors does the market host?
The number of farmers and makers who participate varies by season, but normally we have 90 to 100 farmers and makers.
Who are your most popular vendors?
Well, that depends on which customer you ask! Everyone has a different favorite farmer. We have over 3,500 customers each week so you will find each vendor is a favorite of many people. Our most popular products are our seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables – whether it’s heirloom tomatoes or fruits rarely available like cherimoyas. People frequent the Vista Farmers’ Market for the direct contact with farmers who grow fresh produce of all types.
On any given week, approximately how many visitors attend the market?
We host 3,500 to 4,000 customers depending on the season and the weather.
Aside from fresh produce or food, what other items can be found at the market?
High-quality, handcrafted items sold by their maker. While the Vista Farmers’ Market focuses on farm produce and foodmakers, we also have makers of other items; people like Joe the potter, Joy the soapmaker, and Katherine who designs and creates clothing. There are a variety of wood, ceramic, spa, textile, and other gifts available each week as well, all sold by the person who makes them.
Do any food vendors carry organically grown produce or cuisine?
We have a variety of organic crops, as well as farm products that are “transitional” in that they are no or low spray, no artificial fertilizers, etc. The beauty of a farmers’ market is that you can ask and see for yourself. Keep in mind that these are small farmers and they eat what they grow, so they keep it safe for their family and for you. Each organic farmer is inspected to assure that they are following all organic regulations.
Tell us about the cost benefits of shopping at the Vista Farmers’ Market.
The Vista Farmers’ Market has the freshest produce with the widest variety of any market in North County San Diego. If you compare the value of eating truly fresh vegetables and fruit and getting fresh meats, the price is a great value and you are supporting the local economy and community. Produce at the Vista market, in price alone, ranges from more to less than local markets but it is always fresher and from the farmer. Customers who shop at the market range from those who simply want a great peach or tomato to those who want to make jam at home or juice their own oranges.
What sets Vista Farmers’ Market apart from other markets in the area?
There are a number of subtle actions and values that set the Vista Farmers’ Market apart from other markets. Two are size and focus. We are the largest market in North County San Diego, have been serving farmers for twice as long, and have more actual farmers and a wider variety of local farm crops than most any farmers’ market in the county. We also focus on farmers and makers, relegating non-makers to less frequent events. Many farmers’ markets around the country, state, and county fill their empty spaces with people selling items from China or other areas of the world. We do not. At our market honey is sold by the beekeeper, eggs by the chicken farmer, and wool by the sheep rancher, not by people simply buying and re-selling. Likewise for all of our farmers. In addition, our fee structure charges farmers less than any other market in the county in an effort to help farmers keep farming.
How will the market change when summer ends and fall arrives?
We will see peaches, pears, strawberries, and other fruits continue into the fall, and they’ll be joined by the wonderful abundance of our normal and exotic fruits and vegetables too – fuyu persimmons, apples, and grapes are at their best in fall.
If you could describe Vista Farmers’ Market in five words, what would you say?
Longest-running real farmers market.
Are there any upcoming events that you’d like our readers to know about?
Our last Wellness event of the year happens on Saturday, Oct. 3. The market celebrates its birthday every fall with a free piece of cake for customers.
At-A-Glance Vista Farmers’ Market
Market Manager: Mark Wall
Hours: Every Saturday year round from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Location: San Diego County Courthouse Parking Lot, 325 South Melrose Dr., Vista, CA 92081
Market Description: The longest running farmers’ market in the county featuring real farmers, seasonal produce, and local foodmakers