Council Approves New Farmers’ Market

The City Council Tuesday approved a 5-year contract to bring a Farmers’ Market back to Sierra Madre beginning in July.  Raw Inspiration, which also manages Farmers’ Markets in Agoura Hills, Brentwood, Century City, Downey, El Segundo, La Canada Flintridge, Old Town Calabasas, Pacific Palisades, Westlake Village, Wilshire Center, Sherman Oaks, Larchmont Village, Melrose Place, and three in downtown Los Angeles, was awarded the contract to manage Sierra Madre’s Market, beginning July 13th.  The contract may be extended for up to two years beyond its five year term.

The Farmers’ Market, formerly operated by Scholastic Gardens, closed down last September when Scholastic Gardens decided not to renew its contract.  The organization had intended to operate as a 501 (c)3  when it began running the market for the City, but when it did not attain that non-profit designation, the company decided it did not want to continue to operate the Market without it. The market also suffered from poor visibility at its Mariposa parking lot location, which contributed to poor attendance and sales, so the market never grew to the success that had been envisioned.  The new market will be in a more visible location, on Hermosa between Sierra Madre Blvd. and Mariposa, next to Memorial Park.  This location also puts it just a short walk from two different parking lots.  The previous location was in one of those parking lots, contributing to a shortage of available parking during the market.

The contract calls for Raw Inspiration to pay 15% of its gross revenue to the City every week in which it generates $700 or more in gross revenue.  It also requires them to provide two hours of nutrition related education at no charge to a school located within Sierra Madre or at a City sponsored event during each year of the contract.  Raw Inspiration is also required to provided food-related educational literature and information on how to start a garden at the Market.

According to the proposal submitted to the City by Raw Inspiration, they intend to start with a ratio of 50% farmers and 50% vendors, such as vendors of dried fruits and nuts, bakers, tamale vendors, etc.  All vendors will be required to have valid City business licenses.  Raw Inspiration will also provide a booth to the Chamber of Commerce to promote local businesses, and a booth to the City to promote its events/programs. In addition, they will have several spaces available on a rotating basis for local businesses to, free of charge, set up shop for a few weeks to see if they want to participate in the Market on a regular basis.

The proposal also states that they intend to use a 3rd party certification process to ensure that each vendor is certified for quality and sustainability.  They also plan to host an annual “Green” festival to “educate and inspire the community and residents on new ways that they can practice sustainability, reduce their carbon footprint, and “green” their household and business further.” 

To grow attendance at the market, Raw Inspiration will use an existing e-mail database.  They also plan to have a series of weekly events, monthly events and annual events, including the “Green” event mentioned above, wine tastings and permanent raffles.

After the council voted 4 to 1 to approve the contract (Council member MaryAnn MacGillivray was the lone dissenting vote, expressing concerns about a) the length of the contract, and b) the potential for local businesses to suffer due to competitive vendors at the Market), I spoke with Melissa Farwell, Market Coordinator for Raw Inspiration.  Ms. Farwell informed me that she intends to become a member of the Chamber of Commerce right away, and will be doing a walkthrough of local businesses to introduce herself and invite them to become involved in the Market.  She was also receptive to the Chamber’s suggestion (though no commitment was made) that the Market have signage at both entrances that would note that while the Market is here just a few hours each week, people can find some of the items available at the Market at local businesses all week long, such as Taylors’ for produce, Wildflour Baking Co. for bakery items, Leonora Moss and Nobee’s for flowers, and Taco Fiesta for tamales.

Raw Inspiration’s proposal was one of two proposals received by the City during the RFP process.  The other was from a company called A & R Management.  The company’s principal, Oscar Rodriguez, is a coffee vendor at various Farmers’ Markets, who managed a market in El Monte for a time, and who also was hired by Scholastic Gardens to manage the Sierra Madre market during the last few weeks of Scholastic Gardens’ tenure at the Market.