Through a vendor’s eyes

Simone Ledbetter/The Skyline View
Ulysses Leon poses for photo with strawberries he sells at the Belmont farmers market on August 26, 2018

Juicy strawberries, sweet orange juice, organic eggs, baked pastries and the occasional sunflowers: Farmers’ market vendors load their trucks with their fresh produce so that they can sell to eager customers arriving as early as 6 a.m.

Most people visit farmers’ markets or have at least heard of them, but many probably haven’t considered what it is like to work at one or how people get into the business in the first place.

Being a farmers’ market vendor isn’t a typical job. Waking up early in the morning, vendors prep their produce and head to their market where they set up their stands and display their products. While there is a market manager, the vendor is essentially in charge of their own operation and the money they make. This allows for a freedom not offered at a typical nine-to-five position and many vendors view farmers’ market as their main source of income.

Christian Sanchez, an orange vendor for Ferry Farm, began doing markets five years ago. His wife is related to a farmer, so originally, Sanchez picked oranges and made orange juice for the farm until the farmer offered him a job as a vendor.

“I love the people,” Sanchez said. “The people here are amazing, you get so many different characters. With the vendors, everybody is different, everybody is fun.”

Sanchez admits he used to be shy when speaking to customers but has since come out of his shell. He speaks on how he can do somewhat complex equations in his head almost instantly, even down to the cent, because when selling at the market there are typically no calculators for transactions.

“Here, we get people every week that have never been to a farmers market,” Sanchez said. “So they’re excited and it’s a new thing for them and the regular people, it’s like family.”

Sanchez explains that while the produce can be more pricey depending on what you want, it’s better quality since it is locally grown and farmers tend to think more about the customers than profit. An aspect of being a vendor that Sanchez loves is traveling for different markets. For example, Belmont typically consists of older people and families who know what produce they want and buy the citrus, where college campuses tend to sell more of the orange juice.

Ulysses Leon is a fruit vendor, selling strawberries and blackberries as part of the family business and is the third generation to be working at the market. Farmers’ markets are his family’s main source of income. A young man today, Leon has been working the market since he was eight years old and at this point does not even see it as a job anymore.

“It doesn’t really seem like work,” Leon said. “You know I have fun out here. I just come out here and do my thing, I’ve gotten really used to it.”

Similar to Sanchez, he comments on how much he loves the people and how you get to know both your neighbors and regulars on a deeper level than most jobs.

Terry Andretti is a different type of vendor at the market. She is the farmer herself and believes she is the best person to sell her produce. She’s been doing farmer’s market for 44 years, but her husband’s family has been in the farming business since 1926. The family’s main income is Andretti Farm in Half Moon Bay.

The family does market solely on weekends due to their farming during the week. Andretti hardly sells to grocers and prefers selling produce herself rather than using a vendor.

“People want to see the real farmer,” Andretti said. “They wanna talk to you, they wanna know how it’s grown, the water situation, what type of seeds there are.”

Andretti explains how farmers’ markets used to be around to benefit small farms and families, but now as they’ve grown more popular the corporations are coming in and hurting the smaller farms because there are too much of the same items at the same markets.

According to Andretti, stores like Safeway require produce to be picked a week before and will not accept produce directly, but require it to be sent to a warehouse in Central Valley and distributed. Therefore, the produce is far from fresh. Andretti has four men that have worked with her since 1974 and worries if she will have anyone to help pick the crops once they retire. She hopes the government will step in to help small farms.

Walking into a busy market, but the many of the vendors there have a love for people and their product. They know more than you could ever find out at a grocery store. Next time you’re at a market ask a few questions and see what you learn.

Ulysses Leon poses for photo with strawberries he sells at the Belmont farmers market on August 26, 2018