Cupertino: Local farmers market left in limbo for the summer

CUPERTINO — Summer is a prime season for people to sell and buy fresh produce.

But a long-time farmers market in the city might be temporarily uprooted following unexpected miscommunication between the market’s director and a local community college that hosts the event– potentially leaving dozens of vendors out of work and locals without a convenient place to buy fresh produce.

“If I’m not successful with finding another location within Cupertino, then it’ll put 50 vendors, which are probably 400 families, out of work,” said Jerry Lami, executive director of the West Coast Farmers Market Association, which operates the market.

The association opened Cupertino’s market in 2011, and previously hosted the event at the Oaks Center parking lot next to Interstate 85 — which is now a senior housing development — and Memorial Park before becoming a fixture at De Anza College.

Under an agreement with the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, the association was allowed to operate the market on the college’s parking lot every Sunday. The agreement — first entered into in 2022 — typically gets extended every six months, and the most recent one expires on July 1.

This time around, instead of extending the agreement with West Coast, the college district wants to solicit and chose bids from outside organizations to take over market operations. At a recent meeting, the district’s board of trustees initially considered a proposal from the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association, but rejected it following objections from Lami and other community members.

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Lami said he didn’t realize his market was open for bids and was confused by the new process.

District spokesperson Paula Norsell said it is considered “good practice” for public agencies like Foothill-DeAnza to periodically request proposals to ensure they have the most competitive bids from vendors. Bidding notice and information was sent publicly to local farmers markets, including West Coast months before, and instructions on the bid opportunities are available through the district’s website, according to Norsell.

The board recently reopened the bidding process, giving West Coast an opportunity to continue running the market. But even if their bid gets approved by the board, it won’t be finalized until September. With no agreement to cover the months before then, the market will have to leave De Anza.

Now, Lami is asking the district to make an exception to let them stay throughout the summer, and seeking help from Cupertino to relocate the market elsewhere in the city if the district refuses.

“I’m begging to stay in businesses,” Lami said.

Norsell said the district is, “exploring ways to provide space for a farmers market again in the future, and is currently soliciting proposals through a new public bidding process.”

City staff has helped Lami relocate the market in the past, and Mayor Shelia Mohan said they will help out again in any way they can.

“Council has asked staff to look into options that would allow us to accommodate the market in the interim, as they work though a resolution on their existing location,” Mohan said.

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Long-time market goer Rhoda Fry said she wants West Coast to stay at De Anza, and is helping Lami appeal to the district and council. The Cupertino resident likes how close the market is to her home, and often buys fresh fruits from the vendors.

Fry said the market is valuable resource to both the college and city. West Coast Farmers is a donor to West Valley Community Services — a non-profit that provides housing and food services for community members and of which the De Anza student food pantry is also a recipient. She also doesn’t want to see the market’s vendors, many of which are family-run, struggle during the summer.

“I think the district is giving a poor example to the students on how to treat small businesses,” she said.

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