The San Luis Obispo Downtown Association is rolling out a vision plan for its renowned Thursday night Farmers Market with a new name and new events: a concert series, plans for beer and wine tasting and a wider variety of goods.
Other future goals include ways to reduce market congestion, free public Wi-Fi, cooking demonstrations and putting in place government assistance programs so that more individuals have access to fresh produce and other items.
“We’re trying to raise the bar,” Downtown Association Executive Director Dominic Tartaglia said.
The market — renamed the Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market — was formed in 1983 as a weekly promotion for and by the business owners of the Downtown Association, according to the market’s vision plan.
The Downtown Association manages the market, and the San Luis Obispo County Farmers’ Market Association manages the produce sales. It is one of 19 certified farmers markets in San Luis Obispo County.
More than 120 vendors sell fresh produce, flowers, barbecue, seasonal treats and other items along Higuera Street from 6 to 9 p.m. every Thursday year-round, except on Thanksgiving Day and when it’s raining.
In August 2014, the Downtown Association conducted a survey to gauge public perception of the Thursday night event, which showed that many locals were not coming to the market, were concerned about parking and congestion, and felt there was a lack of local produce, according to the vision plan.
“The survey found that people want fresh seafood, meat and dairy — items beyond local produce,” added Tartaglia, who declined to release the detailed survey results.
The vision plan, approved by the Downtown Association’s Board of Directors in September and recently released to the public, responded to the feedback in part with a marketing push: a new newsletter featuring local vendors and farmers, regular radio spots and a social media campaign.
The plan also calls for prioritizing local farms within 80 miles of the market. Other goals include introducing meat and seafood, emphasizing organic products and locally sourced goods, and increasing the variety of specialty artisanal products.
“We will not ask any vendors to leave but as new sections are created and opportunities for more farmers are developed, we would like to see a greater emphasis on our local farmers,” Tartaglia said.
That process would be managed by the San Luis Obispo County Farmers’ Market Association, which was not involved in the creation of the vision plan.
Peter Jankay, administrator of the county Farmers’ Market Association, declined to comment on the vision plan.
The Downtown Association also is exploring options to expand the market onto more side streets off Higuera, possibly introducing theme sections such as a meat area, Tartaglia said.
“It’s essentially increasing the square footage,” he said. “We’re talking about adding vendors, not moving any current vendors.”
Market attendees may have noticed changes in April, when a new concert series launched on Higuera Street near Osos Street. STEAM Alley — science, technology, engineering, arts and math — also was added to feature interactive displays from local groups, including Los Osos Middle School students.
For more information and to read the vision plan, go to www.downtownslo.com/farmers-market.
FUTURE IDEAS OUTLINED IN THE VISION PLAN
Adding free Wi-Fi for vendors and guests.
Collaborating with the city’s transit and trolley service to increase ridership to the market; working with Uber to introduce an Uber station; and coming together with Bike SLO County to increase bike ridership. (Nearly 3,400 bikes are parked for free at the market annually.)
Implementing a produce pickup program, cooking demonstrations and registered dietician tours. (The tours will be held the third Thursday of each month.)
Programs through the U.S. Department of Agriculture — including Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, Women Infant and Children and Electronic Benefit Transfer — so more people can access the market.