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Food Town: A very fun reinvention of the farmers’ market in Sand City

Sand City’s Independent Marketplace will be back tomorrow, Thursday, May 3, at 600 Ortiz Ave. from 4–9pm with its fresh and local organic produce, live music and terrific local drink! The theme is “Tres de Mayo,” a warmup for Mexican Independence Day; expect a tequila tasting and Latin-inspired hot foot from Vivas Organic Mexican Restaurant, Taquitos Nayarit, Mundaka, Cruz N Gourmet, Babaloo Cuban Cuisine, Aqua Terra Culinary and Wild Plum, and all sorts of local art and artisanal food products. It’s free with suggested donation to the night’s nonprofit partner, the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association. A kids’ area, an ATM and a bag check for your goodies will be provided. Read on for Mike Hale’s account of how it all got started and what a blast it was for all at the Marketplace’s opening night, April 5.

Indi-212Todd Champagne first discussed the idea of a reimagined farmers’ market in Sand City at a Valentine’s Day party. Less than two months later, he launched the first Independent Marketplace, a green-leaning community gathering of farmers, vendors, artists, musicians and like-minded foodies.

“I came home from the party and my wife said, ‘I think I just saw your dream job,’” said Champagne, co-founder with his wife Jordan of Happy Girl Kitchen Co. in Pacific Grove.

At the party, the couple met Patrick Orosco, real estate developer and Sand City arts commission member, who long vowed to bring the foodie community together and create “a monthly experiment in food, drink, art and culture.”

Indi-289After a long conversation about food and philosophy, Orosco asked Champagne to manage a free monthly reimagining of a farmers’ market inside the Orosco Group-owned The Independent, a mixed-use, commercial and residential space used as a refuge for artists.

“It struck all the chords of everything I love to do, a fantastic segue of getting back to all the reasons I started (Happy Girl) in the first place,” Champagne said.

The brainstorm sessions began, and they put together a basic framework for the first marketplace. They wanted to create a free-form event with four simple words as its tagline: “Devour. Imbibe. Create. Explore.”

Indi-219The debut took place on a blustery first Thursday in April, and an estimated 1,000 people showed. Each event will benefit a participating sponsor, and the first one generated more than $2,200 in donations for the Henry Miller Library.

It also generated a bounty of good feelings from both vendors and visitors.

“It was really a positive experience for us,” said Erika Olivarez, co-owner of The Bakery Station in Salinas who set up a booth selling fresh breads and pastries. “Normally first-time events tend to flop, but this was so well organized. We had a great time and also got a chance to get the word out. A lot of people were unaware of us, or they held that negative stigma of Salinas.”

Champagne witnessed a party atmosphere created by responsible adults excited to gather with like-minded neighbors. He saw great participation and heard positive conversations but also some confusion about traffic flow and how to tap into all elements of the event.

“I likened it to the frenetic energy of a first date, where you’re so excited to be with that person you forget to eat,” he said. “So many people came, but we need to do a better job of lending insight into the basic flow and function.”

Indi-216For example, there was a separate artists’ wing that few people gravitated toward and human congestion hindered traffic. Champagne has already implemented positive changes, moving the information booth near the entrance, and combining it with a Veggie Shop and Drop where guests can off-load their bags to better move about the market. He will also widen the aisles and move hot food stations outside near the food trucks to create a better flow.

Champagne was particularly pleased with the small amount of trash produced at the event. Offset Project Monterey was on hand to provide food waste composting and recycling stations, and its report said that the marketplace generated less actual trash than any other event of its size monitored by the group—just one bag of garbage!

“Thanks to our green-minded, conscientious visitors…good garbage folks,” said Champagne.

Plans are already under way for the June event, which will have Carmel Valley as its theme and benefit MEarth at the Hilton Bialek Habit, and July, which, in honor of the Fourth of July, will focus on Santa Cruz and barbecue.

Right now, Champagne is looking forward to tomorrow night, which will feature a number of both new and return vendors, including the wildly popular Penny Ice Creamery from Santa Cruz, which makes the only organic ice cream produced by hand in small batches in Santa Cruz County.

“I can’t wait to taste their flavors celebrating Cinco de Mayo,” he said. “Can ice cream with chili flakes be spicy?”

We’ll all find out together.

The Independent Marketplace • 600 Ortiz Ave., Sand City • 831.394.6000

For more on the Indy Marketplace, also see “Food Fest” at http://www.ediblecommunities.com/montereybay/blog/blog/food-fest.htm.

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