HUNTINGTON BEACH : Talks for Farmers Market Bear Fruit

Officials reached a tentative agreement Wednesday to operate an outdoor farmers market downtown, starting July 3--coinciding with the time that sweet corn, watermelons, peaches, plums, tomatoes and other crops hit their summer peak.

If the agreement is approved, about 35 farmers--mostly from the Southland but some coming from as far as Fresno and Bakersfield--will sell fresh produce, fish, eggs and other farm products at the city parking lot at Orange Avenue and Main Street on Fridays from 2 to 6 p.m.

The Orange County Farm Bureau, a Tustin-based, nonprofit trade association representing 270 county growers, needs a conditional use permit from the city's zoning administrator before the market can open. Final approval is expected in about two weeks.

Vendors must certify that they grow their own produce, with no middlemen distributors, Farm Bureau Executive Director Nanci M. Jimenez said.

"This is pretty exciting," she said. "We've been looking for a site for about a year. There is a need there, and the city is anxious (to start a farmers market) because of redevelopment."

Jimenez said some growers from nearby counties get up at 3 a.m. and pick produce that they bring to such markets the same day. Others farther north make a three- or four-day circuit of open-air markets in Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Santa Monica and Torrance.

The Farm Bureau, which will oversee the market, sponsors a similar operation at the Orange County Fairgrounds.

Former Mayor Robert P. Mandic, who heads the Downtown Business Assn., called the farmers market "a good thing for the city.

"It will bring people downtown, and the foot traffic should help businesses and theaters," he said. "Some people don't know the downtown exists."

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