No Need to Wake Up at 7AM

Courtesy of Ravind Kumar

On Monday, Jan. 10, students were greeted by a group of a dozen vendors lined up in between the Cross Cultural Center and Aldrich Hall. Students were subject to the deliciously fresh scents and smells of homemade cakes, spring rolls and sweet potato fries. A rich supply of fresh fruits and vegetables sat across from a treasure trove of hummus and pita snacks, while freshly made salsa debuted across from a stunning display of flowers.

Chris Monachelli of Dolce Monachelli’s held out a plate of small morsels of moist rum cake, offering to every student who passed the opportunity to taste the best rum cake in the world, with every recipe on the table hand-crafted from scratch using old family recipes from generations past. Next to him, Vera of Vera’s Tamale Express warms up her lunch specials — tamales, chips and salsa made fresh the night before. Both of them are farmers market veterans, with nearly a decade of experience for each of them, and both see the potential of a steadier farmers market on campus. The rarity of good, fresh food on campus gives the UCI Farmers Market a solid edge over the weekly market held in the University Center.

There were new faces mixed in among the veterans as well. The loud pops and sizzles of freshly fried calamari rings and sweet potato fries lit up the morning air as Dave warmed up the deep friers in his stall. The UCI Farmers Market was his first experience in the market environment. “The people are looking at the quality of food,” Dave said. He thinks that students are concerned about the ingredients, and how the foods are made. “The visual is great.” He smiles over a fresh and steaming basket of fries. “It looks like it’s going to be a good day.”

Some of the vendors, while enthusiastic, kept a cautious optimism about the market. Caroline of Sweet Caroline’s commented on her experiences at other markets. “It takes a bit to build repeat customers. I kind of wish it was a weekly thing,” she said. “When I first started, I had to holler a lot. After a month, month and a half, I had repeat customers.” Cathy Ray of Ray’s Ranch, whose stall sported fresh harvest honey in a variety of flavors and a wide array of fresh vegetables, felt that students simply weren’t prepared. Many students expressed disappointment in being unprepared for the fresh fruits and vegetables. “People were interested, just not prepared,” Cathy noted. She also mentioned that the price tag might turn vendors away. Most farmers markets charge $10 to $20, she pointed out, and take a percentage at the end. While UCI charges a flat rate, unless enough sales are made to be profitable, other farmers markets may hold better incentive. All the vendors agreed that a Monday market was a good move, a solid incentive for vendors looking for weekday sales.

The first UCI Farmers Market of 2011 was not the first on campus. Last year, ASUCI teamed up with The Green Initiative Fund to bring the farmers market on campus. Lena Hu, the ASUCI farmers market coordinator, provided some insight on the future of the market. “The first market was held at the administration loop which is a great idea, because it created more of a market feel. I originally intended to have it there, but fire lane issues make it very complicated to use the same location.”

Restrictions on where food can be cooked made it difficult to find placement for all the vendors. “My original goal was to base this market on the UCSD one where theirs is more like an international food fair with different prepared foods rather than a focus on agricultural produce. “As of right now, I can see the amount of vendors growing so the admin loop might not be a big possibility. Heavier marketing will be done; there are some things that didn’t work out because the things we needed weren’t available in time.” Issues with approving certain modes of advertising caused issues, she noted, including approval for shuttle ads.

Kevin Schlunegger of TGIF was also at the event, and commented on the importance of sustainable events like the Market at UCI. “TGIF is especially fond of the project because it will occur on a recurring monthly basis, and provides a much needed service to the students and faculty.  The ASUCI Farmers Market is a glimpse of what’s available off campus and is intended to highlight a cornerstone of a more sustainable future. We encourage everyone to shop at other markets during the times that there isn’t one on campus so we can all do our part to make the world a more livable place.”