By Jeff Clemetson | Editor
Low sales, split with Kiwanis challenge market managers
Diminished daylight hours, inclement weather and a split with the Grantville-Allied Gardens Kiwanis Club has put the Allied Gardens Farmers Market in jeopardy of shuttering its booths. Despite the troubles, market managers and vendors say they are going to try and persevere.
Last month, citing issues with the direction the market was going, the Kiwanis voted to discontinue its support of the Friday markets. The club was instrumental in starting the market in the shopping center parking lot at 5185 Waring Road, where it has been held since it began in April of last year.
“As a club, we decided to focus on other upcoming projects,” Kiwanis president Alex Zubak said. The Kiwanis only agreed to financially support the market through the end of October, he said.
So what is the future of the Allied Gardens Farmers Market?
“We plan on continuing it but it depends on the negotiations with the [shopping center’s] owner about the deposit,” said Diem Do, who along with her husband David Klaman, operate Community Crops, which manages the farmers market. “We have polled all the vendors, and most of them are going to stick with us through the winter.”
At the Jan. 8 market, the first in several weeks because of bad weather and the New Year’s Day holiday, some vendors and shoppers returned.
Sven Merton of Honeymoon Homestead, a vendor that specializes in fresh breads, said the Allied Gardens Friday markets started off great but then extremely hot weather in September and October made it difficult for vendors because people were more inclined to shop where there was air conditioning. And now that it’s winter, he expects it will continue to be slow. Still, he said he enjoys vending at the Allied Gardens market and plans on continuing coming.
“It will pick up in the spring, or soon, hopefully,” Merton said.
Do and Klaman have been managing farmers markets for over 20 years. Besides the Allied Garden market, the couple manage the Tuesday night market in Chula Vista, the Wednesday night market in Ocean Beach and the Sunday market in Downtown San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, according to the San Diego Farm Bureau website.
Do said the split with Kiwanis is “creating a bit of a strain” on the farmers market. As sponsors, Kiwanis put up the initial deposit for the use of the parking lot. Once the deposit is returned, Community Crops will need to come up with that money to keep going.
Raising the deposit money may be difficult because attendance at the market has dropped. “Winter is tough on farmers markets because people don’t want to go out in the cold,” Do said. “And this [Kiwanis] situation is adding to that as well.”
The “situation” with the Kiwanis began in November with some online comments made on Nextdoor and Facebook as to why the market seemed to be floundering. Kiwanis vice president Kathy Wiskur announced the club’s split with Community Crops and people chimed in with their thoughts on why the market wasn’t garnering the community support they think it should have. Among the complaints people listed was that the time change made it too dark to shop; there wasn’t enough marketing and promotion; the market managers weren’t responsive enough; prices were too high; and there were not enough produce vendors. The biggest complaint, however, was that the market was held on Fridays.
“I personally loved the idea of having a farmers market just up the street but had lots of trouble trying to make it on a Friday evening after work,” Andrea VM of Allied Gardens wrote on a Nextdoor thread discussing the market. “Seemed there were weekend activities and events going on, kids wanting to make it to the movies or over [to] a friend’s house, etc. and stopping at the market was tough.”
Do said the day of the market was chosen by the Kiwanis because “they envisioned it as a family-friendly event to kick off the weekend.”
“We could change the day, but it’s particularly difficult to get vendors for the weekend due to the already high numbers of weekend markets in existence that they’re already committed to,” she said.
Finding and maintaining vendors for the market was a challenge from almost the beginning, according to Do.
“We started the market with about 20 farms represented, which is a high number for a market that size. They comprised the majority of the vendors. Unfortunately, sales began to significantly decline a month into the market, and we do not force vendors to stay when they aren’t even making enough to cover the gas to come down.
“The hindrance to getting more vendors is that they aren’t selling enough to justify the cost and time to come to the market. Particularly for farmers, once they pick produce they need to sell it within a day or two to maximize the freshness of the crop.”
On the Nextdoor thread, Benetta Buell-Wilson from Del Cerro wrote that vendors sometimes don’t sell enough to pay for the cost of the booth. “Perhaps there can be a date where the booths are discounted (half, maybe?) to encourage vendors to come,” she suggested.
To get a booth at the Allied Gardens Farmers Market, farmers pay 7 percent of gross sales, which averaged $2.80 at the Dec. 18 market, Do said. Non-certified vendors selling prepared or packaged food pay 10 percent of gross sales, which averaged $20 on Dec. 18. And crafters pay a flat fee of $20 unless they make more than $200 on gross sales, but that has yet to happen at the Allied Gardens market.
“Our fees are low for a farmers market and as you might imagine, we’re not making a lot from this,” Do said. “Considering the permit fees, insurance and staff, we’re barely breaking even.”
Despite the market’s shaky situation, Do still sees some positives moving forward. The farmers market has a new website that a neighbor donated time to create; and new hours –– 3 to 7 p.m. –– make it easier for people to drop by and do shopping after work or on the way home from picking up the kids from school, she said.
Do added that a farmers market can flourish in Allied Gardens, but there is a “need for community support” to make that happen.
For more information and updates on the Allied Gardens Farmers Market, visit alliedgardensfarmersmarket.com.
––Write to Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org