‘Time for a change’

Chico Certified Farmers’ Market looks ahead with new market manager and revitalized board of directors

Liz Gardner-Jaqua (center, in hat) raffles off fresh produce at Saturday’s market.

Liz Gardner-Jaqua (center, in hat) raffles off fresh produce at Saturday’s market.

photo by Matt Siracusa

Learn more:
The Chico Certified Farmers’ Market (which includes the year-round downtown Saturday market as well as four seasonal markets in Chico, Oroville and Paradise) is online at www.chicocertifiedfarmersmarket.com. All markets accept CalFresh EBT cards as well as WIC.

“We’re getting a new atti-tude—it’s about time, I think. It’s time for a change,” said Rob Montgomery, new director of publicity for the Chico Certified Farmers’ Market (CCFM). Montgomery is also a member-vendor of the CCFM; his Rob’s Natural Produce stall has been a regular fixture at the downtown Saturday farmers’ market for more than 20 years.

Montgomery’s comments referred to the recent flurry of changes in the CCFM organization, which oversees the popular year-round farmers’ market that is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 7:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. in the city of Chico’s Municipal Parking Lot No.1, at Second and Wall streets. CCFM also operates four other—seasonal—markets in Chico, Oroville and Paradise.

Montgomery, a CCFM board member in times past, is back on its seven-member board of directors, after a January election shakeup that saw only two of the most recent board members returned to their posts. Add to that the departure of longtime CCFM manager Terry Givens in September and the hiring of new market manager Liz Gardner-Jaqua, who took the CCFM reins in January.

“We have a new manager and basically a new board. We’re also changing the way our organization is run,” Montgomery said.

“We’re becoming more membership-oriented. We are encouraging more membership participation—and we are becoming a more transparent organization,” he added, choosing his words carefully.

“We have this renewed organization that wants to focus on an improved partnership with the city of Chico, the [Downtown Chico Business Association] and the Chamber of Commerce to make the Chico Saturday farmers’ market one of the best in the country,” Montgomery continued. “In the ‘90s, the Chico farmers’ market was considered one of the top 10 farmers’ markets in the country, and we have slipped. We want to re-establish that.”

As for Gardner-Jaqua’s coming on board, Montgomery is excited and optimistic. “Liz has got a lot of ideas and she’s very eager,” he said. Among other things, Gardner-Jaqua is working hand-in-hand with the CCFM board to come up with ideas for improving the Oroville market, which starts up again on the third Saturday in May.

“The city of Oroville is excited to work with us,” Montgomery said. “They’ve offered us a beautiful new location that overlooks the river—that deal is still in the works. Also, we’re forming an alliance with the Chico Grange and they have graciously invited us to use their facilities for our board meetings and member potlucks.”

Additionally, the new-and-improved CCFM organization is working on ways to decrease congestion in the shopping aisles of Chico’s Saturday market, as well as improve safety in general in the entire parking lot. A market-improvement committee and a safety committee, made up of board members, vendor-members and members of the community, are being assembled to address these issues.

Expansion of the downtown Saturday market is also being looked at. One possibility is that one of the aisles now dedicated to car traffic will become a third vendor aisle.

“We have reached a point where our expenses are becoming larger than the amount of income we have, because of a limited number of vendor stall spaces,” Montgomery said. “We are hoping to expand the number of stall spaces. This will help accommodate many of the longstanding farmers who don’t have enough room to properly display their products, and we turn away many new vendors with new variety because of lack of space.”

Montgomery, for his part, grows so many different types of produce—six varieties of kale, five types of carrot and 15 lettuce varieties, for starters—that “it becomes really difficult to display it all.”

Gardner-Jaqua, speaking recently from her tiny CCFM office behind downtown’s Mr. Kopy store, said she’s excited about working with the board. “The [new] board is going to be more hands-on and much more involved with the market.”

Gardner-Jaqua is also excited about being a more hands-on presence herself at the Saturday market; she plans to make the manager’s table at the east end of the parking lot more visible to patrons. She also plans to get the community even more involved in the goings-on of the farmers’ market than before. In addition to already-established events such as summer’s popular Red, White and Blueberry Fest pie-making contest, and the Great Tomato Weigh-In and Salsa Contest, Gardner-Jaqua is considering adding a couple more seasonal, community-participation events, such as a winter event that focuses on the bounty of local citrus, and a spring-greens-focused event ("The Great Green Salad Toss?” suggested Gardner-Jaqua).

Look for Gardner-Jaqua to carry on the CCFM tradition of conducting the 11 a.m. raffle ("It’s free!") of bags of fresh, locally grown produce and other goodies. She even hopes to improve upon the fun event by using it as a platform to “communicate with the community, announce special events,” and so on. Gardner-Jaqua has also started a CCFM mailing list, with names and email addresses collected during recent raffles, “so we can inform people on a working basis of what is going on, that maybe there’s a new vendor coming in, or maybe a new vegetable in season.”

Montgomery echoed Gardner-Jaqua’s desire to get the public more involved: “We want to start involving the public and the farmers in get-togethers—meet-and-greets—so that we get to more intimately know each other. This goes along with all the events that Liz talked about. These kinds of events are ‘golden publicity'—no amount of money can buy that kind of publicity.”