It’s a beautiful Sunday morning here at the Milpitas Farmers’ Market. Rows and rows of vendors are on hand, complete with locally grown fruits, vegetables, meats, breads, honey, fish, and more. It’s still early, and the vendors have just finished putting up their stalls, but the crowd of Milpitians has already started pouring in…
Douglas Mena, the Milpitas Market Manager, looks out at the crowd, expressing a wish for more diversity among them: “We have a large Asian population that visits the market, which is great. Being here at the Great Mall I’d like to see more whites, more Hispanics, more blacks. I just need to find something that appeals to them and make them aware of it so that they come out here more continually.”
According to a 2016 snapshot of city demographics, 62% of the Milpitas population is of Asian/Pacific Islander descent, while 17% are Latino, 15% White, and 3% African-American.
Getting the word out about the Milpitas Farmers’ Market’s existence has been an uphill battle for the management, as the location and schedule have changed quite a bit over the years. When the market first opened in May of 1995, it was held on Wednesdays at what is now the Safeway parking lot on Calaveras Blvd, where the market remained until 2007. Sundays were added in ’98. Then the market moved to the Calaveras Hills High School parking lot for a brief period, before finally closing altogether between September 2007 and February 2009. It then reopened at the Los Coches site in the Indian Community Center’s parking lot, where it remained on Sundays only until July 2016. The market’s current location, in the Great Mall parking lot next to McDonald’s, has sustained since August of 2016. This last move at last allowed an opportunity for growth and expansion.
When asked what he would like Milpitians to know about the market, Mena states, “All of these farmers are California farmers; they’re not growing anything out of State.”
Indeed, all the farmers at the Milpitas Farmers’ Market are California Certified Agricultural Producers, which means that their farms are visited and inspected by the county prior to being allowed entry into the market.
Mena also dispels a few myths about farmers’ markets: “Not everybody is organic; some people are under the idea that [in] farmers’ markets everybody is organic, but that’s not always the case.”
A vendor called KaBeela is one of the few Certified Organic Farmers based in Milpitas. They’ve been attending the Milpitas Farmers’ Market for the last two years, and specialize in greens, vegetables, broccoli, and corn. They harvest the produce within 24 hours of the market to ensure freshness and flavor.
“We’re all about the California economy over here. So whatever money you spend here goes to California farmers directly. It doesn’t go out of State or out of the country. A lot of stores advertise that they source from local farmers, but are they certified? They might advertise one or two farms, but what about the rest of the stuff?” asks Mena.
Root Down Farm in Pescadero specializes in free range, sustainable, organic poultry such as chicken, turkey, pig, and duck. According to worker Nani Jenkins, “We know what we’re feeding the ducks and the chickens and the pigs, and they can roam wherever they want on the farm…It’s real meat and you can tell by just looking the meat itself, you can tell by the shape of the chicken, the whole chicken, you can see where its legs are and you can tell that it’s a walking chicken.”
According to Jenkins, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), some farms produce chickens that never walk, either because they don’t offer free range environments or because they are fed so many hormones that their legs cannot support their body weight. Another key distinction of Root Down Farms is that they harvest their meat after approximately 12 weeks to allow their animals to mature naturally, as opposed to some mass markets which give the chickens only a few weeks to live before they’re harvested. Which is why, according to Mena, it’s important to know “what are you feeding your family and where it’s coming from”.
Mena also reflects on the recent immigration crackdown and how it’s affecting local farmers, citing a long-time farmer that is no longer able to attend the market: “The immigration issues, I think, has had an affect on farmers finding help. It’s very unfortunate I think. I’m a true believer that immigration is good for our country. A lot of them have a hard time finding people to work. That means if they can’t find employees, they can’t grow their stuff, they can’t come out here; and if they can’t come out here they can’t make money.” Mena wants patrons to remember that “These are small family farms. They’re not big farmers with hundreds of thousands of acres. We’re talking about 10, 20, 50 acres.”
Patrons should plan on bringing cash to the market, as only a handful of vendors take credit or debit cards. Some Milpitas Farmers’ Market vendors also accept EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfers), SNAP, and WIC. And don’t forget to bring along reusable bags.
Above all else, Mena offers encouragement to new and current customers alike: “Come on out here. Let me know what you want. Come talk to me. I am here for them. I want to know what they want. This is their market, it’s not my market…I’m out here for them. If they come by to the market and let me know what they want, I can work on it.”
You can generally find Mena manning the info booth, sporting a green farmers’ market T-shirt.
The Milpitas Farmers’ Market is open every Sunday, year-round, rain or shine, from 8AM to 1PM, at 882 Great Mall Drive, right next to McDonald’s. For more info, visit their website at: https://www.pcfma.org/