History & Profiles

Ahead of her time: Norma Martinetti and the Hollister Farmers’ Market

Despite local resistance, she founded what has become a staple event.

A farmers market for farmers? Norma Martinetti, now 100 years old, says that sometimes rural areas get stuck in their ways and new ideas are hard for residents to visualize. She tells about her early effort to get a local farmers market up and going in a small, hardworking town with agriculture all around it. Martinetti is a longtime Hollister resident who has always been ready to take on big projects and overcome challenges.

In the mid-1980s, Martinetti, a Hollister Chamber of Commerce board member, brought up the idea of San Benito having its own farmers market. She grew up on a family farm in the Sunnyslope area. 

“We were poor but we had everything,” she says. “We had eggs, milk from a cow, pigs and fruit and nut trees.” The Martinettis grew the produce they needed all right there. 

She moved away, became a nurse, then trained to be an anesthesiologist. After she married, she took on large community projects, became a banker and had the opportunity to travel abroad. Once a farm girl from Hollister, Martinetti became more worldly. 

After her husband passed away in 1976, she decided to return to her hometown.

Hollister was still very traditional, with agriculture the main source of income and high school football the community focus. She knew that getting new ideas rolling may not be easy.

She had seen farmers markets in Europe, Monterey and Santa Cruz and thought, why shouldn’t we have one, right where everything is grown? Despite her enthusiasm and strong track record for getting things done, Martinetti says the idea fell flat.

“They told me that it was not needed in this agricultural area!” she says, still sounding a little outraged. “I thought it was completely the opposite.”  

Not one to give up, Martinetti credits another Hollister resident at the time, Terry Carlisle, for backing her up. 

“Terry kept me going. She spoke up and said, ‘I like that idea!’”

True to form, and with Carlisle’s support, Martinetti pushed on. “I said, ‘We can’t be wishy-washy about this. We either want it or not.’”

Although Martinetti is petite and uses a wheelchair today, she is still a force. She gets fired up when she remembers going in front of the Board of Supervisors. 

“I asked for $2,000 and they thought that was outrageous,” she says.

Martinetti told the supervisors that she already had gained local financial support. 

“They said it wasn’t in their budget. I was very taken aback!” 

Martinetti felt the general reaction was small-minded and remembers comments such as, ”I just can’t see it.” Ultimately, she got strong support from the San Benito County CattleWomen’s Association, which put up the money and was able to get it started. Hollister resident Allan Ritter managed the market for several years. 

Martinetti says local leadership complained the market was too expensive for the county health department, that it took too much of their time. She says more and more restrictions were tacked on, making it difficult for local farmers, early risers who work long hours, to participate.  

“I wanted it downtown to help the merchants and improve the foot traffic,” says the astute businesswoman. But she says some stores complained and the Chamber of Commerce had to keep moving it around downtown Hollister from one section of San Benito Street to another.

“Then they netted and fenced off areas and it became too difficult, and farmers gradually started to drop out.”  

Today the Hollister Farmers’ Market is well established. The Hollister Downtown Association has taken the lead and resolved the inevitable minor complaints. The HDA invites the public to its Farmers’ Market each Wednesday, starting May 4 and running until Sept. 28. Martinetti is happy to see that community members didn’t give up. Now, both Hollister and San Juan Bautista have farmers markets.

Opening day of the farmers market in downtown Hollister on May 1, 2019. Photo by Becky Bonner.
Opening day of the farmers market in downtown Hollister on May 1, 2019. Photo by Becky Bonner.

Martinetti sees the growth that Hollister has experienced as a positive infusion of ideas and fresh perspectives. “You need to look at what others are doing in other areas! Back then, I had been to England and they had beautiful fruit, produce and home churned butter.” The bright colors and fresh produce aromas of open-air markets drew shoppers and tourists in to enjoy the bounty of the region. 

“We have a different population now and they are used to these types of activities,” she says. Martinetti sees a community that will gradually become more like San Juan Bautista, Carmel or Sonoma County someday. “If the men that are elected to office would just open their minds, we could all benefit from it.”

Sometimes a great idea can be ahead of its time—or more accurately, ahead of the mindset people are stuck in. When it comes to trying out fresh ideas and welcoming change, Martinetti advises, “don’t get distracted by nice little prosaic old men.”



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Leslie David

Leslie David is a Bay Area independent reporter/producer and is a BenitoLink founding board member. She has produced for radio, television, newspaper and magazines in both California and Wyoming. She was with KRON-TV News in San Francisco as camera-woman, editor and field producer, where she won the Commonwealth Club's Thomas Storke Award with Linda Yee for their series on the Aids Epidemic. She started as a small market news reporter shooting her own 16mm film at KEYT-TV Santa Barbara. Leslie lives on a ranch with her family in San Benito County.