SR Farmer’s Market: a business incubator
Visitors to the Scripps Ranch Farmer’s Market can enjoy fresh food, stroll along rows of booths, choose from a selection of fresh produce and listen to live music. It makes for a good, mellow day for shoppers.
Billed as a weekly family festival, it’s the only event of its kind in Scripps Ranch that is produced and held locally every Saturday. Farmer’s Market manager Beverly Cassity partnered with Ellen Browning Scripps Elementary School several years ago, and the Farmer’s Market continues as a main fundraiser for that school to this day.
But the Scripps Ranch Farmer’s Market serves another, important purpose: it serves as a test tube for commerce. Vendors of all sorts offer their services and goods, hoping to not only make a profit each week, but to also experiment with marketing and learn what customers want and what customers don’t like. Beneath the surface, the Farmer’s Market acts as a miniature business incubator, continuing this nation’s tradition of free enterprise.
“This is their stepping stone to getting their own brick and mortar businesses,” Cassity explained. “You come to a farmer’s market and you put the time and energy in because you’re actually talking to the consumers. … You find out what they like, what they don’t like. Are my prices too high? Are my prices too low? You’re going to figure out exactly your niche: what is going to sell best; what the public wants most.”
Cassity is not shy about offering advice to her vendors, often encouraging them to change their table displays or add more visual effects to gain attention. She is so honest that she sometimes lets vendors know that maybe this market is not right for them.
She should know. Cassity has years of experience in the business world. She has been an event planner for 50 years, running Cassity Productions. She specialized in planning outdoor events for children and families. Her husband, Mike Cassity, helps her set up and take down the Farmer’s Market each Saturday. Mike, perhaps one of the most likeable men in the world, had a career in upper management for Avis car rentals for 43 years. They make a good team, with plenty of business knowledge between them.
“You can use farmer’s markets in many different ways,” Beverly said. “It’s how people get used to someone saying, ‘no’ and not taking it personally.”
There is a base of vendors that have stayed for years, but there is also a bit of turnover, which is to be expected. Some move on to other markets. Some decide they can’t make it work. Some are so successful they outgrow the market and open a storefront.
“We’ve had many of them,” Beverly stated. “One of the vendors that we have right now went on to open two restaurants, and decided restaurants weren’t his thing. He liked working with the public and actually talking to the customers.”
She was describing Harry Koolen, who runs the Bibby’s Belgian Crepes booth. Today, Koolen sticks with farmer’s markets.
“People come to the Farmer’s Market just to get his crepes in the morning. … They’re the best in San Diego,” Beverly said.
Between 50 and 60 vendors offer their goods and services each week at the Scripps Ranch Farmer’s Market. Here are a few examples of these entrepreneurs:
Syrus Kwan is the owner of the Little Someone booth featuring Hong Kong cuisine. He serves up Hong Kong-style hand crafted dumplings and more. This creative chef, who also happens to be a professional illustrator-artist, has his eyes set on eventually opening his own restaurant.
Smokin J’s BBQ booth in the market’s food court provides the sweet smell of barbecue on any given Saturday. CEO and pitmaster Jeremy George said the burnt ends are the most popular item he sells at the Farmer’s Market. George left the Farmer’s Market for a while, but returned late last year.
Dave and Chris Honadle own Amor Mi Vida Farm in Ramona, and they also have a booth at the Scripps Ranch Farmer’s Market each week. They specialize in succulents. This is just one example of an established business that also sells items at the market each Saturday.
Wood Craftsman Bob Brassard displays a collection of incredible wooden pieces he has personally formed from exotic woods. His collection includes finely crafted wooden bowls, dinner plates, urns and wooden containers. A retiree, Brassard hopes to turn his hobby into cash, seeing how far he can go.
Another wood craftsman, Alfred Czerner, also has a booth at the market. Having had an entire career as a carpenter and master woodworker, Czerner now sells his handmade wooden planters and plant boxes at his booth. But Czerner has an incredible story he is willing to humbly share with customers. He was a competitor in the 1952 Summer Olympic Games held in Helsinki, Finland, competing in four-man crew for Argentina in the Games of the XV Olympiad.
Lewis Board makes unique fudge and sells it at his Mr. Lew’s Spicy Bootleg Fudge booth. He is another man seeing if he can take his hobby to another level.
Timothy Mapes makes treats and snacks for canines that are favorites of both dogs and their owners. He is the founder of a home-based business named using the first letter of the names of pets he has rescued: A’SLoBBRiN Pet Bakery & Gifts. Believe it or not, dogs that have visited his booth before actually lead their owners to his booth on Saturday mornings
Beverly Cassity explained that farmer’s markets are especially useful for bakeries to test their products. While a handful have come and gone in the past year, some have stayed.
The Miro’s booth at the Farmer’s Market is a good example of a baked-goods booth recently testing the market. It offers a delectable selection of fresh-baked items on view in its display cases: breads, croissants, sour dough baguettes, pastries, brownies and chocolate chip cookies.
Adrian and Tiffany Collins built their business out of love for their children. Four out of five of their kids had various food sensitivities. Therefore, Tiffany spent about three years developing the correct flour blend so their children could enjoy baked goods. Now, the couple’s business, Tiffany’s Kitchen, is in its third year offering their brand of gluten free baked goods and ingredients to others.
Two Bundles Bakes offers hand-crafted, individually-decorated specialty cookies. These cookies are colorful, tasty artistic treasures, lovingly made one-by-one by Anny Diaz Rodriguez. Her two children are the inspiration for her home-based business and the “Two Bundles” part of the name.
There are also a handful of entertainers at the market. Musical performers rotate in and out each month to entertain the crowd.
Coffee and Creamer is a musical duo that perform live music and provide karaoke at the market. The group consists of Vee Reonal, lead singer and karaoke host, and Jon Sherman, the guitar player who also produces their music. While they have a CD, the couple sells decorative items painted by Reonal on a small table beside the performance awning.
Marjorie La Beach, owner of MOCA-Silk, is a true believer in the Scripps Ranch Farmer’s Market. With a background in finance and trading, she began selling her colorful artificial flower arrangements at the market. Now, she is the market’s assistant manager.
Indeed, the Scripps Ranch Farmer’s Market offers a wide variety of options for food, merchandise and random fun. There is a good selection of fresh produce including apples, cherries, peaches and nectarines, and there is always a selection of colorful flowers.
There are as many as 14 food court vendors. During the past year, the selection included such dishes as Spanish paella, Hawaiian poke, Malaysian street food, Venezuelan food, Cuban sandwiches, ceviche, Belgian crepes, tamales, Filipino food, dumplings from Hong Kong, Italian food, French macaroons and food from Mozambique. There are sausages and barbecue sandwiches.
In addition, the Scripps Ranch Farmer’s Market has artisans, jewelry designers and clothing vendors. Others sell artificial turf, self-defense lessons, electric bicycles, hand-made soaps and candles.
The Scripps Ranch Farmer’s Market has a loyalty card that customers can get when they visit. Customers can have it punched each time they visit, and when they get 10 punches they are given a $5 credit to be used at any vendor in the market.
In addition, the kids can participate in a treasure hunt that usually includes the newest vendor, sending shopper their way. The children look for the vendor with the stuffed penguin at its booth. When they find it, they can go to the manager’s booth and select a prize from a treasure chest filled with toys.
Beverly decided to change the hours this year because she observed that customers were arriving later in the day. The new hours are 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The Scripps Ranch Farmer’s Market can be found each Saturday at 10380 Spring Canyon Road, in the Innovations Academy parking lot. Visit srfm.org