A birthday celebration

Here's to 35 years of the Saturday farmers' market

No, it's not my name day, though I do share a birth year with one of Chico's most beloved events: the Saturday farmers' market. On July 17, 1980, half a dozen or so farmers got together in the parking lot where the Safeway gas station now stands on Mangrove Avenue and they had a sale. And they continued that sale, moving over the years as it grew, until it became more than an event, a tradition.

When I moved to Chico nine years ago, I was blown away by the Saturday market, even if it required me to be awake and alert before 1 p.m. I'd grown up in the suburbs of St. Louis and had visited the famed Soulard Market downtown only a handful of times. Back then, I had very little appreciation for where my food came from. Then I spent seven years in parts of Southern California where nothing much grows and, quite frankly, if there was a farmers' market, I wasn't aware of it.

I think my favorite part of Chico's market scene—because there most definitely are several markets in this town and its surroundings—is that while it offers an opportunity to get super fresh produce and unique handmade foodstuffs, it's also a community of its own. You run into friends, family and acquaintances there. You get clued in on town gossip. Plus, you support your neighbors by purchasing local edibles and crafts.

Over the years, there've been plenty of changes at the CCFM. Of course, the market has physically moved a few times. But just last year, it made its current home a little more permanent by signing a six-year franchise agreement on the parking lot at Second and Wall streets. And with that longer contract came some other pretty cool changes.

First, this past March, an extra aisle was added for vendors. That's an added 30 or so spaces, according to CCFM General Manager Natalie Carter, which allowed some regulars to expand into two spaces and others to open up shop. Some of the new faces include Eckert Malting & Brewing, which brews gluten-free beers, and Air Plant Addict, which sells those cool air plants that need hardly any water.

Plus, “vendors that normally would have been pushed out as the agricultural season gets into full swing get to stay,” Carter told me. So, places like Live Life Juice, which regularly gets my business when I stop by on Saturday, might've been replaced by a farmer during the high-yield months but now that there's an extra aisle, they get to stay—right on!

I know not everyone is on the farmers' market bandwagon. And that's OK. But even if I choose not to get out of bed early enough on Saturday to snag some local goodies, I'm comforted to know it's there, never too far from home.

For those who'd like to celebrate the market's 35th birthday, head on over this Saturday from 7 a.m.-1 p.m. for some bonus fun. Chef Richie Hirshen will be doing cooking demos from 9 a.m.-noon, there'll be free birthday cake at 10 a.m., and a free drawing offers promises of a sweet grand prize (tickets at 10:30, drawing at 11 a.m.). Hope to see you there!