The Morgan Hill Farmers’ Market isn’t all smiling faces and
friendly requests to try a fresh-picked peach. Two local
establishments – Mitra’s Bakery in the Vineyard Town Center
Shopping Center and the nonprofit local Kiwanis Club – are not
welcome to sell at the market or even nearby in the parking lot of
BookSmart, according store owner Brad Jones.
The Morgan Hill Farmers’ Market isn’t all smiling faces and friendly requests to try a fresh-picked peach. Two local establishments – Mitra’s Bakery in the Vineyard Town Center Shopping Center and the nonprofit local Kiwanis Club – are not welcome to sell at the market or even nearby in the parking lot of BookSmart, according store owner Brad Jones.
“Locals should have first priority over outsiders. (What’s happening) is at the detriment to others in the community,” Jones said.
The California Farmers’ Market Association, which manages 15 markets from San Francisco to Morgan Hill, is bombarded by requests by vendors to enter, but because the 30-booth Morgan Hill market is full, Director Gail Hayden said, a wait list of more than 100 potential sellers sit idle.
“It’s about seniority in the market. The people that are there … that supersedes local because they’ve been there,” Hayden said. The CFMA allows one non-agriculture booth for about every three to four produce booths at every market. To add one more non-agriculture booth would mean an additional four produce stalls, which is just too many for the area, Hayden said.
“It’s so limited, you don’t want to use it all for apple strudels,” she said, adding that they want to give variety by offering fish, hummus, olive oils or Japanese spring rolls from Morgan Hill’s Aoi restaurant. Currently, two Morgan Hill businesses comprise the eight non-agriculture food booths at the market. The other six hail from Santa Cruz, San Jose, Hayward, San Bruno and Benecia.
The 23-year-old Saturday staple of at least 1,000 people a week is designed as an authentic open-air market for fresh fruits and vegetables, not a food festival, Hayden said.
“We have very strict rules of what can be brought to the market. It really has to be something good and something special,” Hayden said. She added that the “seniority rules” mantra comes from the years that vendors put in when the market was smaller and less successful.
Business owner Fatemah “Mitra” Nazari, an immigrant from Iran who runs Mitra’s Bakery with her husband Reza Sarzaeim, applied to enter the Farmers’ Market but was turned down because “there are already too many bakeries,” Nazari said from her small bakery next door to Nob Hill Foods on Tennant Avenue.
To enter the market, a vendor applies and may be selected to have their product tasted by a “jury” of chefs and others assembled by the CFMA. Nazari presented her baked goods – cinnamon bread, German bread, apple pie and more – to the jury, but was declined.
“It is full they tell me. ‘There is no room for you.’ But you have to take from the locals. We have your bakery here,” Nazari said opening her arms and motioning to her seating area. Mitra’s opened in 2009. “Saturday, we just look through the window. No one comes.” Sarzaeim added, “we can’t even make $60 on a Saturday.” The bakers say during the months the Farmers’ Market is closed, the bakery is full and their profit is substantial, but from May to December the business is taken from them. In an effort to keep their blossoming bakery afloat, Nazari asked Jones if she could set up a small booth on his property on Saturdays. Jones contacted the city and was assured that Nazari had the required permits to sell. So, Nazari baked May 7 before the May 8 grand opening, set up shop at the corner of Depot and Second streets and within an hour of doing business at the market Hayden called the police.
Nazari, unsure of what to do having never dealt with American police officers, called Jones who spoke with the officer and he eventually left because he said she had the correct paperwork. Or so she thought. After Nazari tried to sell once more the next Saturday, and the police were called again, the city sent Nazari a letter that she would need a Temporary Use Permit to continue to sell at a cost of about $2,000 to Jones.
“I cannot accept he can pay $2,000 more for me,” Sarzaeim said. He told Jones, “Thank you very much” and returned to his store, where he and Nazari will await a rainy day or the market to close to increase their sales.
The letter also mentioned the Morgan Hill Kiwanis who wanted to hold a small flea market in the BookSmart parking lot Saturdays. They were told they too needed a use permit and Mitra’s Bakery could not be a part of the flea market, which Jones had requested, due to the proximity to the Farmers’ Market on Depot Street.
Hayden told Kiwanis member Judi Chain that “I just don’t see dusty dirty old stuff in the proximity of our vegetables and fruits,” Chain said, adding that it was nearly verbatim. “I was offended.”
Jones, like Chain and Nazari, just want Morgan Hill businesses to be supported – in Morgan Hill. And if thousands of people are perusing the town on any given Saturday, why not provide extra local flavor to impact the local economy. Buying from Santa Cruz bakeries or San Jose bakeries simply doesn’t make sense, they say.
“We felt that everybody could be there and (the CFMA) feeling was ‘we don’t want you around,” Chain said. “I am on the (wait) list. When is it my turn? It will take a generation,” Nazari said.
Hayden said, “(Mitra) comes from a socialist country where everyone is equal and everyone gets their turn.” The CFMA does not operate that way. She added that Nazari was given a second opportunity by the CFMA commissioner to submit a product for consideration that wasn’t being offered at the market. But, Nazari never contacted him.
With more than 100 vendors on the list and the rules of balancing produce with non-agriculture, Nazari will have to wait years before finding a spot. That is, if the CFMA allows her entry.
On the CFMA website, the rules say that “By establishing a relationship with California Farmers’ Markets Association, and providing a pleasant, responsible, and professional work experience your chance of being selected for a market of higher demand will increase,” it reads. Hayden said since she upset so many, allowing Mitra’s Bakery into the market is unlikely.
“She just forced her way in on the corner, which caused the farmers to be angry,” Hayden said because if a Farmers’ Market commissioner found that an uncertified vendor was part of the market – or close enough to be mistaken as part of it, Hayden said – the market could be shut down. Nazari was a squatter, Hayden said, and her screaming and yelling at a teenage manager caused him to quit his job because he was so embarrassed.
Also, because Nazari was selling atop gravel, the food could be hazardous from the dust flying around it. “(Our vendors) have to follow the state law. Only certified farmers can be in the certified Farmers Market. She was risking all of their business. She should be apologizing to the people she put at risk,” Hayden said.
Jones said the market is simply not as local as it could be. He referred to the time before the CFMA took over the market in 1996 from the Morgan Hill Downtown Association and moved it from Third Street to Depot Street, away from the main drag of local shops and restaurants and closer to a parking lot so the trucks from out of town could pull in, set up and pack up.
The local artists and crafters were not being allowed into the market and wanted to sell their goods nearby on the busy Saturdays, but were denied.
Jones answered their call and created Crafters’ Row about four years ago in the area on his property on Third Street behind BookSmart. The city gave Jones verbal approval that he was free to sell on his property until the CFMA complained, and Jones was told Crafters’ Row also was now required to have a Temporary Use Permit. The small show shut down and hasn’t returned since.
“I just think that people who are local should have the first shot at selling to our community,” Jones said.