Farmers leave San Luis Obispo Farmers Market

San Luis Obispo Farmers Market

I spoke to an amazing ol fella while buying vegetables at our local farm stand.. You see, I like vegetables from the grower, not some third party distributer or distribution warehouse. The vegetables are fresher, and buying from the grower just feels better to me. Besides, he is a neighbor and his children go to school with mine, he belongs to our local rotary, shows up at the planning commission meetings, see them in church, an so on.

We always chat about business; I talk about real estate technology; he talks about farming, harvesting, and selling vegetables.  We met years ago when he had a stand at the farmers market. We still have a great farmers market here – San Luis Obispo may have the longest running farmers market in the country. Its fantastic!

He told me the story about why he does not go to the farmers market anymore.

You see, when his great grandfather got into the family business with his son, they tilled the land, planted the seed, picked the harvest, and would run it into town on Saturday for the farmers market. It was a great time for farmers to talk about farming, and of course there was always friendly competition about who grew the juiciest and sweetest tomatoes, the fullest avocados, the meatiest artichokes, and so on. Some farmers had better crops than others and made more money and got larger farms, some just scraped by, and some failed. Farming is farming; you just do the best you can.

After awhile, organizers decided to spruce-up the farmers market. They felt that if they could bring live entertainment and outdoor barbeques that more folks would come to the market and buy more vegetables. Like all the farmers, he thought that would be a fine idea – more people would certainly lead to more sales. So they agreed and more people came, and sales went up a bit. Moreover, people sure were having a good time.

The organizers did surveys, measured audience size and realized that the market would be even be bigger if they advertised to nearby towns. It sounded like a logical idea, and they decided that the farmers should pay a modest fee to afford the advertising. It wasn’t much money, so they agreed. They called it permit.

They more they advertised and more people came, and more attractions were added. “It got to be that more people were coming for the music than the vegetables” he said. Sales did not seem to be going up. Moreover, the organizers hiked those permit fees even higher. If he wanted to put his stand in a particular spot they charged him an even higher permit fee. The only way to avoid all of the fees was to put your stand on a side street.

My friend figured he had had enough. The fees were too high and it did not feel like a farmers market anymore. It felt like a State Fair. He realized that his vegetables sold just fine from his farm stand, and he wouldn’t need to pay the permit fees.

In leaving, he gave up a little bit in sales, which were quickly absorbed by the others at the market. But really did not change much. As it turns out, people buy the same amount of produce each week no matter what – supply and demand. They have no problem finding his stand, everyone in town raves about his friendly service and great vegetables.

My friend taught me a little business lesson, If you have great products and great service, you make your own market – the locals will hear about you and will to do business with you.


  1. I would love to find the local farm stands of the area. A recent transplant from Northern California, farm stands were so natural and were plentiful.

  2. Hey John,

    I did a little research. Here is the complete list of local farmers markets. We like Arroyo Grande on Saturday morning (it is behind the main street, Grand Ave). We also love Avila Beach on Friday evening - usually turns into dinner and adult beverage at sunset. San Luis is fun on Thursdays - and by far the most entertaining.

    Baywood Park – Downtown – 2 – 4:30 PM (charming beach town next to Los Osos)

    Paso Robles – Downtown City Park – 3 – 6 PM

    Arroyo Grande – Spencer’s Parking Lot – Courtland & E. Grand – 8:30 – 11 AM
    Atascadero – Downtown Sunken Gardens – 3 – 6 PM

    Morro Bay – Spencer’s Parking Lot – 2650 Main Street – 2:30- 5 PM
    San Luis Obispo Downtown – 6 – 9 PM

    Paso Robles – Wal-Mart Parking Lot – S. River & Niblick Rd. – 9 AM – Noon
    Cambria – Vet’s Hall Parking Lot – 1000 Main St. – 2:30 – 5 PM
    Cayucos – Vets Hall Downtown – 10:12:30 PM (Memorial Day – Labor Day Only)
    Avila Beach – Downtown Promenade – 4 – 8 PM (April – Sept. Only) (Note – the middle photo above – the concert by the pier – was taken at the Avila Beach Farmers Market.)

    San Luis Obispo – Cost Plus Parking Lot – Madonna Rd – 8 AM – 10:30 AM
    Paso Robles – Downtown City Park – 9 – 1 PM
    Templeton – Downtown Park – 9 – 12:30 PM (Most Farmers of all Markets in SLO!)
    Arroyo Grande – Downtown Gazebo – Branch St. – Noon – 2:30 PM
    Morro Bay – Downtown Main Street – 2:30 – 5 PM
    Nipomo – Monarch Dunes Country Club – 1645 Trilogy Pkwy – 11:30-2:30 PM
    Grover Beach – Ramona Garden Park – 995 Ramona – 3 – 6 PM (June – Sept. Only) (Note: Free “Sizzlin Summer” Concert during each Grovers Beach Market)


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