Bellflower's New Farmers Market Is Ripe for Bargains

Times Staff Writer

The country-Western band scheduled to perform at the grand opening of the downtown Bellflower Certified Farmers Market was canceled because of Monday's heavy rains. But the constant downpour did not dampen the enthusiasm of 16 farmers and an estimated 400 customers.

"This is fine weather for ducks," said Pat McFarland, 72, who brought apples and cider to sell from his Oak Glen apple ranch in San Bernardino County.

"You have to have a diminished capacity, a rich wife and a sense of humor to survive farming, especially in weather like this," said McFarland. He claimed to have all three.

Jeannie Brown, a Bellflower resident, said she came to the market in inclement weather in search of a bargain.

"I have a family of six, including a husband and four daughters. I need to save money," said Brown, 27.

"The farmers were excited. The customers were pleased. Considering the weather, we are pleased with the turnout," said Craig Nealis, city administrative assistant.

Opening-day shoppers found eggs, fish, fruit, vegetables, honey, cider and flowers and plants at the open-air market on Laurel Street, west of Bellflower Boulevard.

For the city's part, it hopes that the market--which will be open every Monday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.--will bring more people to the downtown area.

Merchants generally believe that Mondays are among the slowest business days of the week and hope the farmers' market will not only increase customers on that day but will bring repeat customers to the downtown stores, said David Ryal, manager of the Bellflower Chamber of Commerce.

"Bellflower doesn't have malls like Cerritos and Lakewood, but perhaps this will be a way of getting some of the mall customers," Ryal said.

Farmers do not pay rent for their spaces, but the city will receive 3.25% of the gross daily sales, said Hullie Hull, who was hired by the city to manage and organize the market part time.

Too Soon to Tell

Hull said that with just one day's experience, complicated by the rain, it is too soon to determine how much either individual farmers or the city can earn.

However, farmers participating in markets the size of Bellflower's can average anywhere from $200 to $500 daily, said Vance Merrill-Corum, a spokesman for the state Department of Food and Agriculture.

Farmers must be certified by the department before they can participate in the markets, said Merrill-Corum, a direct marketing specialist for the department. He said that the products must be fresh and the farmers must grow the products they are selling.

This is the 20th certified farmers market to open in Los Angeles County, Merrill-Corum said. There are 94 statewide, run either by cities or nonprofit organizations. In the Southeast area, there are certified markets in Long Beach and Norwalk.

"The markets benefit everyone. The farmer receives cash in his hand from the customer and doesn't have to go through a middleman and the customer gets fresh products. The products do not have to be cosmetically perfect or uniform, which is a requirement when selling to the wholesaler," Merrill-Corum said.

To illustrate the point of a not-so-beautiful fruit that is fresh and cheap, Kevin Martin displayed several hairy, egg-sized kiwis.

"These are not perfect. But they are cheap. Ten for $1. Wholesale they are 39 to 79 cents apiece. And they are fresh," said Martin who helps run the family 80-acre kiwi farm in McFarland north of Bakersfield.

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