If there is one lesson event organizer Tammy Jackson must have learned from the first Farmers' Market held May 4 in downtown Hollister, it is you don’t put baked potatoes and corn near the kettle corn. At 4 p.m. the aisle between the two vendors resembled Highway 101 during commute time.
Other than a bit of congestion, the Hollister Downtown Certified Farmers’ Market appeared to be a huge success, with estimates of some 4,000 strolling between booths selling everything from heirloom tomatoes to jewelry. Jackson said she expected even more people to come once the commuters started getting home, between 5:30 and 7 p.m.
“It’s a great turnout, but my only concern that makes vendors down here (at the southern end of town) unhappy is that we flipped the food. It’s just so crowded,” Jackson said. “I didn’t alleviate all the tensions from the merchants downtown.”
She said of the nearly empty sidewalks behind the vendors’ booths, an obvious indication that the crowds were not finding their way into the stores that they had been offered an opportunity to pay $15 to have an opening between booths or a sign promoting their businesses.
“No one wanted to do that,” Jackson said. “We gave them the option. Otherwise, we go booth-to-booth all the way down the street. We tried to keep some of the big spaces on the intersections because it’s so windy, and if we have to we’ll fill those in.”
Diane Hampton and her son, owners of San Juan Bakery, from San Juan Bautista, said they were celebrating four years in business. “This is our second farmers’ market,” she said. “It’s been great because the weather is perfect, which makes a big difference.”
Her best-selling item are turnovers as she ticked off the different fillings, “We have apricot, apple with glaze, apple cinnamon, cherry, blackberry, guava, and lemon.”
Diane Matarangas said she prefers the Hollister market rather the driving the Mountain View because she lives just a mile or so down the road. She started growing heirloom tomatoes about 10 years ago. She is what might be called a home-grown farmer, starting her plants in the kitchen, then moving them into the dining room, and eventually outside where they’re put in a greenhouse, where they graduate to a red cup and finally to market.
“I was giving them away and then I realized instead of buying them I should be selling them,” Matarangas said. “So, we’ve been doing this for eight years. I do over 200 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, and then there are some hybrids that people always want.”
She also grows zucchini and cucumbers. “Just about anything for the garden,” she said. “I do the whole pack and keep one for me and sell the rest.”
Matarangas said that while she prefers selling in Hollister, the volume of sales is lighter because many people are just walking around, being social. But she continues to come back because she has her regular customers who have bought from her for the last five years.
Among the fresh produce stands there was a bit of bling being sold by Lupe Velazquez, who sells Paparazzi jewelry. Every item in her booth, she said, was being sold for $5, plus tax. She said it was her first time at the market and that she had a few sales, but what made her happiest was seeing all the people, especially for the first day of the season.
Among the bling, shoes, rugs and brick-a-brac was Duane Cashion, pastor of Living Hope Bible Church, who was putting up a banner declaring, Warriors for the Lord. “We’re promoting the church and also our Christian (motorcycle) riding group,” he said. “This is a chance to share the gospel and ride our motorcycles.”
Just across the aisle was Dave Leonardo, pastor of the First Church of Hollister, who was handing out flyers and offering tickets for a chance to win Starbucks gift card. He said his church has been in Hollister for six years.
Sherry Taylor is the human resource manager for 1,000-acre Tonascia Farms on Airline Highway, but she was busy selling organic artichokes and asparagus. “Today, we also have fresh and dried apricots,” she said. “We’ve been coming here for five or six years and we do very well. We like to promote that we’re organic and people like that.”
The market can even attract a politician or two. Mark Medina, who is hoping to fill the retiring Margie Barrios’ county supervisor seat, was handing out brochures, and Hollister City Councilman Raymond Friend was spotted strolling down San Benito Street.
Medina said the market is a great place for the community to come together to buy stuff, but, “…more importantly, to visit together is what I like. It’s an economic driver, if not today, people will come back because they saw things they didn’t know were here and it will draw them back.”
Friend said he really liked the new layout of the market. “They answered a lot of the questions that were brought up at the town hall about the market,” he said. “There was a lot of complaints about the congestion and a lot of smoke, as well as parking issues.”
He said he believes the market will be an even bigger success this year, acknowledging that some store owners weren’t happy about their customers not being able to get into their stores. He said he’s sure there will be some growing pains, but the businesses owners' concerns are being considered.
Even though it was her job, Sheyla Gonzalez-Funes seemed to be having a great time, greeting folks and handing out information from the elections department of the voter registrar office to let people know about the upcoming election and voter information forum coming up on May 14.
Tom Bray has been selling honey from his custom trailer along the roadways of San Benito County for the past four years, following his father’s example, who also sold honey for many years. He has beehives around Hollister and Watsonville and said of his honey, “It’s full of pollen and it’s the perfect for Hollister because a lot of people have allergies and they come to me because I’ve got the best honey,” he said. “I haven’t had one customer in four years tell me it doesn’t work in helping with their allergies.”
While most of the foot traffic was up and down San Benito Street, a few families took advantage of the blow-up slides and bounce houses that had been set up on the grass of the 400 Block. And someone had taken the opportunity to draw their opinion in chalk on the blackboard mounted on the wall of The Vault about the ongoing controversy over the recent council decision to enter into an exclusive negotiating agreement to sell it.