National Farmers Market Week is an annual celebration that takes place across the United States to honor and promote the importance of farmers markets in local communities. This week-long event typically occurs in early to mid-August and is a time to recognize the vital role that farmers markets play in supporting local farmers, connecting consumers with fresh, locally-grown produce, and fostering community engagement.
In the heart of Davis, California, lies a vibrant and cherished institution that has stood the test of time—the Davis Farmers Market. As we celebrate National Farmers Market Week, we delve into the fascinating history of this local gem.
Definition of Farmers Markets
The USDA defines it as: “a multi-stall market at which farmer-producers sell agricultural products directly to the general public at a central or fixed location, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables (but also meat products, dairy products, and/or grains).”
History of Farmers Markets
Farmers markets date all the way back to Egypt over 5,000 years ago. Farmers along the Nile came together to sell their fresh produce.
The first farmers market in the United States opened in 1634 in Boston, Massachusetts. Many markets began following: Hartford in 1643, New York City by 1686, and Philadelphia in 1693, to name a few.
During the 1700s, 1800s, and the first half or so of the 1900s, grocery stores gained in popularity; consequently, interest in farmers markets fell. During the late 1970s, a peach harvest surplus inspired lawmakers to allow farmers markets in California.
The seeds of the Davis Farmers Market were sown in the late 1960s and early 1970s when five individuals—Martin Barnes, Jeff & Annie Main, Henry Esbenshade, and Ann Evans—found themselves united through friendship, political activism, and their studies at UC Davis. Under the mentorship of UC Davis rural sociologist Isao Fujimoto and his Alternatives in Agricultural Research Project, they developed a shared passion for sustainable agriculture and community-driven initiatives. In 1976, the trio of Henry Esbenshade, Martin Barnes, and Annie Main received approval from the Davis City Council to establish the Davis Farmers Market in Central Park.
Bolstered by the support of the Davis Food Co-op, which promised to buy any produce that farmers couldn’t sell, they embarked on a mission to connect local farmers directly with consumers.
Alongside the market’s growth, farmers and consumers began advocating for changes in State regulations that limited direct marketing of food. The efforts of individuals like Davis Farmers Market board member Les Portello contributed to the state Department of Food and Agriculture adopting regulations that created the nation’s first Certified Farmers’ Markets.
These new regulations enabled farmers to sell their products directly to consumers without strict size and packaging requirements, as long as they met minimum quality standards and operated in a market certified by the county agricultural commissioner.
This significant development further bolstered the Davis Farmers Market’s mission of supporting local farmers and promoting sustainable agriculture.
To this day, there are over 100 vendors at the Davis Farmers Market, where you can find fruits and vegetables, a variety of meats and seafood, nuts, wine, local eggs and honey, fresh-baked goods, plants, flowers and gifts. Today, the market serves between 7,000 and 10,000 people a week with more than 70 percent of the vendors coming from within a one-hour drive from farm to market.
The current schedule for the Davis Farmers Market:
Saturdays 8am-1pm, year-round, rain or shine!
Wednesdays 4-8pm for Picnic in the Park (mid-May through mid-September)
Wednesdays 3-6pm (mid-September through mid-May)
Today, along with their children, Annie and Jeff run Good Humus Produce, which can be found at the Market every Saturday.
Their eight and a half acre farm is made up of orchards, California native hedgerows, flowers, herbs, and vegetables. Beyond their produce they also make jams and jellies with their own fruits and herbs, floral arrangements and wreaths with their flowers, and they also make tons of dry fruit using the natural California sun.
You can find their products at the Davis Food Co-op & they also have their own Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
The Davis Farmers Market Cookbook
Written by Ann Evans, this revised editon of the Davis Farmers Market Cookbook, which celebrates the Market’s 40th anniversary, focuses on the second generation of farmers and vendors. Ann Evans speaks of the importance of Farmers Markets, farmers, and the joys of cooking seasonally.
You can find this book available at the Co-op and online
As we commemorate National Farmers Market Week, let us recognize and celebrate the remarkable history of the Davis Farmers Market and the invaluable contributions it continues to make to the community.