My love/hate relationship with farmers’ markets

When the Saturday Farmers’ Market at Kapiolani Community College first opened nine years ago, I couldn’t have been happier.

Here was a bone fide outdoor market — and right in my backyard — showcasing all Hawaii grown and produced foods. Tomatoes, kale, Chinese parsley, honey, coffee, oatcakes — everything I needed for that week was here.

But over the years, the market has exploded in popularity. There are tour busses and trolley dropping off droves of tourists and police officers hired to direct traffic.

Now, I literally avoid the area.

And it’s too bad.

I’ve walked through recently and noticed more booths serving prepared foods than fresh produce, no doubt catering to the new onslaught of visitors who have no need for butter lettuce or Japanese cucumbers.

Sad as this sounds, it wasn’t worth circling for parking and fighting the crowds to get the locally grown produce I had come for. (I’m lucky enough to live near a Foodland Farms, which features fruits and veggies from Ma’o Organic Farms and Ono Organic Farms on Maui.)

It’s not that I don’t support farmer’s markets. I guess I cling to what these markets were originally intended to do — support local farmers and food producers and make these products available and accessible to the public.

See, these farmers need households like ours to support their businesses. Yes, tourism is important — ag tourism is hugely popular these days — but they still need to sell their tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and papayas. And quantity helps.

So you can imagine my excitement when I heard the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, which runs this farmers’ market, was going to add a Tuesday night market geared more toward residents. (This is HFBF’s fifth market on Oahu.)

More than 30 vendors set up their booths on Tuesday night, selling fresh produce, plants and flowers, and the popular prepared foods such as pizza, guava-smoked pork, malassadas and cheesecake. And so far, it hasn’t lured the throngs of people its Saturday counterpart does.

Yet.

So I’m holding out hope for this one.

Saturday Farmers’ Market, 7:30 to 11 a.m. every Saturday, Kapiolani Community College, 4303 Diamond Head Rd.; 4-7 p.m. Tuesdays through Aug. 14.

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7 Responses to “My love/hate relationship with farmers’ markets”

  1. cara July 31, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    I”m not trying to be anti-tourist, but isn’t it sad how so many “local” things get spoiled when then try to focus more towards tourist’s tastes instead of kamaaina? I haven’t been back to KCC market in a while either because of the crowds. Maybe Tuesdays will be better…I hope.

  2. Lusus Naturae July 31, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    Lordy I hear you.

    For many years I’ve been doing virtually all my shopping at the Portland State University Farmer’s Market. It’s huge, it’s all local, it’s all the veg and meat and pasta and grains and fruits and everything I could possibly need for a week.

    And it’s gotten popular. And CROWDED.

    Crowded with local people buyin’ local stuff, that’d be great, but it’s become crowded with tourists who’ve heard about how marvelous the place is and want to see it. But they come to look and taste and try, which is great, but they don’t BUY anything. One of the best thing about a Farmer’s Market is getting to know your farmer, and over the years I’ve developed relationships with a lot of them. And they all concur: This market is starting to lose its appeal. Other than a core contingent, no one is BUYING anything there.

    Which is why I’m heartened to hear about your Tuesday market. Admittedly Portland and Honolulu are different (we’ve got markets dang near every day of the week SOMEPLACE), but there need to be outlets for the people that WANT the core stuff — The butter lettuce and cucumbers of which you speak.

    That’s why the PSU market is, for me and mine, a place to get the odd things that we can’t get anyplace else, while the real shopping happens at a smaller market in Hillsdale. Closer, smaller, less known, more community-minded. I dont want to abandon the PSU market, and won’t, but it’s gotten too big.

    Support your local farmer!

  3. matt July 31, 2012 at 12:39 pm #

    agreed. plus, the prices go up when the markets get popular. witness the ferry building farmer’s market in SF. good produce, for sure, but the prices are insane. instead, we go to a couple of local ones in our area (san mateo, about twenty miles outside of the city) and get produce that’s just as good (if not better/fresher) for a lower price.

  4. Annoddah Dave July 31, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    CAT: Same dynamic happened at the Swap Meets. Also, swap meets became fences for stolen goods.

  5. M August 1, 2012 at 6:34 am #

    Hello Cat,

    The KCC farmers market got to crowded for me too and been going to the Ala Moana farmers market on Saturdays. I was going to check it out yesterday but couldn’t so I’ll try next Tuesday.

  6. gigi-hawaii August 1, 2012 at 8:11 am #

    Yes I agree about the Saturday market, where my sister sells her Licious Dishes vegan food. There’s a farmers market 2 blocks from where I live but I haven’t visited it yet.

  7. kyleepuu August 13, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

    Hey Cat, I checked out the Ala Moana Farmer’s market (also on Sat – on the parking deck in front of Sears), it was SO pleasant. No lines, no crowds, lots of fresh veggies (and prepared foods) but like you, I normally go for the veggies and was really satisfied. To cure the itch for bread there’s also a pretty amazing bread vendor called The Baker Dude and his fresh cookies, breads and rolls with cheese and veggies baked right in are amazing!

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