Almanac

Cover Story - April 3, 2013

Momentum builds for locally grown food

by Dave Boyce

The idea of local people eating locally grown food continues to make headlines in Woodside. A new farmers' market is coming on Sunday afternoons to the Woodside Elementary School, and the Town Council expressed interest last week in asking voters whether to allow that new market to move to town-owned property.

That market would be in addition to the Wednesday afternoon farmers' market that launched last year in Skylonda, and will soon reopen for its first full year of operation.

And now there's news from Portola Valley.

The Town Council agreed on March 27 to a proposal by Brandi de Garmeaux, the town's sustainable practices coordinator, to allot one Saturday morning a month in a redwood grove at Town Center for an hour-long "garden share," a free exchange of local produce and gardening tips among residents.

A few minutes later, the council sounded cautiously agreeable to Ms. de Garmeaux's idea for a once-a-week farmers' market a few feet away from the redwood grove in the parking lot of the Historic Schoolhouse. The town would limit the number of vendors and the space allocated, and focus on locally grown organic produce "in line with our sustainability goals here," Ms. de Garmeaux said.

The coucil's caution concerned the views of tax-paying merchants in town on the prospect of drop-in competition free of that tax burden. Outreach to these merchants is clearly needed, said Councilwoman Ann Wengert, who also recommended having a trial market to see how it goes.

Ms. de Garmeaux was seeking direction from the council, and she got it. "I think everyone here thinks it's a great idea," Mayor John Richards said.

One idea excluded from Woodside's farmers' markets — the presence of a food truck or two — sounded as if it would be part of the conversation in Portola Valley, though, again, not without considering the views of local merchants.

Woodside's restrictions

While the new Sunday farmers' market in Woodside has a temporary home on the elementary school campus, the council is seeking a permanent home on public property. The obvious place would be the parking lot near Independence Hall, but Measure J, passed in 1988 by Woodside residents, restricts the commercial use of public property in Town Center.

Councilman Ron Romines, an attorney, read Measure J closely and proposed that while it excludes commercial development, it is arguable that the legal language does not exclude commercial uses such as farmers' markets. "I think that's important because I don't think anything like a farmers' market was even contemplated at the time it was passed," he said during the council's March 26 meeting.

The council did not disagree, but was interested in erring on the side of caution by adding a ballot measure to the November election asking voters whether a commercial use like a farmer's market is acceptable. A staff report is set for the second meeting in May, with ballot language to be ready by August to meet the schedule of the San Mateo County Elections Office.

"I would hate to see us fudge to pass something. I would prefer (that it) be really clean," said councilwoman Deborah Gordon, using "fudge" to refer to an artful interpretation of Measure J's restrictions.

Councilman Dave Burow agreed. "The risk (of artful interpretation) is much greater than the benefit."

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