Skylonda residents flirted joyfully with a small farmers' market of about eight tables in a parking lot near the corner of highways 84 and 35 on the afternoon of Wednesday, Aug. 1. The vendors quickly sold out their produce, their homemade foods, their sunflowers and other goods, but in keeping with the letter and spirit of the applicable laws, the town of Woodside scuttled plans for a repeat. The municipal code lacks specific language authorizing farmers' markets. More significantly, the use permit for the Mountain Terrace event venue and the craft store Penelope's Den, the two businesses that share the parking lot, forbids outdoor sales.
This state of affairs shouldn't last much longer. The Town Council, eager to remove the obstacle to farmers' markets, agreed at its Sept. 11 meeting on an interpretation of the municipal code language that would allow them. The council asked about but could not accelerate the process to amend the parking lot use permit. The Planning Commission is expected to review an amendment on Oct. 3, which, assuming that it passes muster, would put the next Skylonda farmers' market on Oct. 10, a Wednesday afternoon.
There's a bit more waiting to endure, but this turn of events is as it should be. Farmers' markets are a small step toward a greener lifestyle. You can ride your bike to it. Agribusiness will not be represented. If the goods are packaged, the packaging is likely to be minimal. The fruits and vegetables will be just picked and in season and will not have crossed an ocean, much less a state or county line. The background music, if there is any, is likely to be live as well as lively.
Farmers' markets may not be quite as old as agriculture itself, but they go way back and they build community spirit, as Skylonda residents have testified from their one experience on Aug. 1. There are person-to-person exchanges between those who grow the food and those who consume it. Kids can see fruits and vegetables in natural light, unpolished and often unwashed, with bits of evidence clinging to carrots and potatoes and onions indicating that they've spent much of their lives underground.
That's not to say that there won't be photogenic moments for the produce. Droplets of misted water grace much commercially available fruits and vegetables these days, a phenomenon that may make an appearance at a Skylonda farmers' market. But it will be the indigenous fog that does it, not a spray nozzle.
Opportunities to haggle over the price of something are rare in this country and certainly not common to buying food. A farmers' market offers a window into the vigorous bargain-hunting ethic of streetwise retail, a push-and-pull experience that echoes the way in which much of the world shops.
If it works — and why shouldn't it? — perhaps the Woodside Planning Commission will hear requests for more. Perhaps Portola Valley will be next. What about Atherton? Farmers' markets are popular and they're green; they're local and they're fun.