The Aptos Farmers Market is pushing past middle-age into its golden years.
At 41 years old, the market holds the title as the longest running farmers market in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.
Far from the hub of downtown Santa Cruz and the culture of Watsonville, the farmers market is nestled in the hills of Aptos – an area considered mid-county by many residents. While other markets are set up in the heart of shopping plazas, this market is nestled in the heart of Cabrillo College, the only community college in the county. The location has its pros and cons, says Catherine Barr, executive director for Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Market, which runs the Aptos site along with three others in the region.
While it’s far from the traditional tourist haunts, the farm rests on the hillside of the college that give hungry shoppers an ocean view unlike any other market. The market is sprawled out over there tiers of parking lots built into the hillside that are a reprieve from the circular and aisle set ups of most other markets.
Philosophically, the market makes sure 85 percent of vendors are farmers – roughly 51 of the 62 vendors, Barr says.
“We’re kind of unique here in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties because we do that,” Barr says. “WE like to have certain people, bakeries and fish people to round out the market. But we’re more farmer focus and we’re here for the California farmers.”
The market began like any other: Four farmers got together in 1976. They struggled in the beginning and several times contemplated throwing in the towel because they were far from breaking even. But as the idea of buying from local growers grew over the decades, so did the market. Now as the farmers market industry has taken off, so has the Aptos Farmers Market.
That long history has led to generations returning to the market time and again: As shoppers and growers. Because many of the farmers have been there since the early days, the market has seen generations of farmers.
“We’re finding and seeing the [second] and third generation coming back to the farm and taking over when grandma and grandpa are looking to retire,” Barr said.
On a typical summer day, the market sees 3,500 to 4,000 people roll through their market. In the winter, the crowds slow down to just 3,000, Barr said.
The May and June leading into the summer are some of Barr’s favorite months. Growers bring their peaches, nectarines and cherries to market, some from as far as Stockton.
But more than supplying her favorite fruits, the farmers are also teaching shoppers. Unlike markets around other parts of the country and the state, this one stays open through the year. More than bringing people in, the year-round market teaches customers about eating according to the season and how to buy accordingly, Barr said.
“It keeps all these farmers working, which is the ideal situation,” she said.
Aptos Farmers Market at Cabrillo College in Aptos
Open Saturdays, year-round, 8am – 12pm