Photo Credits: Justin Han / Aggie. People shop at the Davis Farmer's Market at Central Park in Davis, Calif.
From Bolani to Upper Crust Baking to Good Humus and back: how a small co-op turned into one of Davis’ biggest attractions
Being a UC Davis student often goes hand in hand with being a faithful Farmers Market goer, or at least a sporadic one. The Wednesday evening and Saturday morning markets are both extremely popular among the students and local community.
Though the Farmers Market in Davis is a landmark of the town today, the origins of the popular market were almost accidental. The market was started by a group of UC Davis students living in an on-campus co-op in the late 1970s. The co-op became part of a community buying club, which inspired them to create their own local food co-op: the Davis Food Co-op.
Among these students were Annie and Jeff Main who, along with two other couples, decided to spearhead the creation of a Farmers Market that would operate in conjunction with the co-op. This market, which started out as a small project on Saturday mornings, quickly gained popularity and has grown substantially since then, according to Randii MacNear, the current manager of the market.
“[The market] was only on Saturdays, then it expanded to Wednesdays, and then it was really just one small little step after another of just kind of like the perfect storm in Davis,” MacNear said. “We had community development funds, we had people sitting on the council, […] and we just dreamed as big as you could possibly imagine. It just kept going and created a permanent home.”
From the beginning, the market was a huge success in Davis. But despite its popularity, the market was not a profitable venture for the Mains, so they, along with Martin Barnes and Henry Esbenshade, decided to start their own farm and sell produce at the market as well. The families farmed together for three years before they each decided to create their own independent farms, all of which sell to the Davis Farmers Market to this day. Main said she and her husband Jeff never intended to start a market or a farm, but that the venture was a product of perfect timing.
“This was the early 70s,” Main said. “It was a specific time in history of the back-to-the-land movement, and learning to can and sourcing your food and gardening. I never said I want to be a farmer, but the time was definitely right. At that time, there were only one or two Farmers Markets in the state […] and one or two co-ops in the state. It was a really different time, and definitely the cusp of what was to come.”
Today, Annie and Jeff Main, along with their children, run Good Humus Produce, which can be found at the market every Saturday. They also now sell to the Davis and Sacramento Co-ops and through their very own community-supported agriculture (CSA) program.
Like Main, Randii MacNear never imagined herself working at a Farmers Market, but has now been managing the market for 34 years. MacNear formed a relationship with Main through her weekly visits to Good Humus to buy fruit that she independently canned throughout the 1970s.
Main, who was still heavily involved with the co-op, approached MacNear and asked her to be the canner for the co-op’s very first apricot jam. Shortly after that project, MacNear became a part-time manager for the market, and again, one thing led to another until she was a full-time manager. MacNear, who graduated from Antioch College as an art major, said that though she never saw herself managing a Farmers Market, it is now a critical part of her identity.
“It’s really just who I am as a person,” MacNear said. “I love food, I love health, I love the community, I love being outdoors, I love farmers.”
MacNear now runs five markets every week, represents the market on multiple boards in Davis and deals with all of the behind-the-scenes relationships between the city, vendors and the community. She works around the clock, making sure that the market — which is one of the most prominent in California — runs smoothly. MacNear said that the community the market creates makes the difficult work well worth it.
“It’s like a big family, it really is,” MacNear said. “Farmers never want to leave us, they love selling at the market, it’s such a great atmosphere in a beautiful park, we have coverings, we have lights. We’re like the Taj Mahal of Farmers Markets. We are very interested in [the] UC Davis population learning about the Farmers Market, tasting the market, falling in love with it because we want them to go out and […] to have to continue that, go to the Farmers Market, because that’s how you create change.”
The market does indeed draw in the whole community — from college students to families — and many of the vendors, including Bill Sidiq, whose company Bolani sells at the market weekly, attributes the very special environment of the Davis market to Randii’s work.
“Without Randii, [Davis’ market is] not one of the best Farmers’ Markets in California,” Sidiq says. “[Our] relationship with Randii has always kept us at the Davis Farmers Market and will always keep us at the market.”
Sidiq’s company Bolani, co-founded by his parents, is known for its stuffed flatbreads and spreads. The company focuses on staying authentic to their heritage by using family recipes from both Sidiq’s mother’s and father’s families. The recipe for one of their most popular spreads, the vegan basil pesto, came from Sidiq’s grandmother. Combined with Sidiq’s father’s family flatbread recipes, the company’s delicious Afgan foods are a huge hit every week.
Like Good Humus and Bolani, many of the vendors at the Davis Farmers Market are family-run businesses with long histories in Davis. Upper Crust Baking Company, founded by Trudy and Mo Kalisky in 1986, is no exception. Lorin Kalisky, Trudy and Mo’s son, took over the company almost three years ago and continues to bring their baked goods to the market every week. Lorin said his parents started the company very organically when they moved to California to attend UC Davis.
“Upper Crust started out of a passion for bread baking,” Kalisky said. “My dad was a home baker for many years. [My parents] both grew up in New York City and moved to Davis, and they missed the good bread that they remembered from New York. He developed a whole bunch of recipes and they had a lot of success. There wasn’t a lot of good bread around and they started selling to restaurants. They got into Farmers Markets pretty early and over the years, Farmers Markets really because their main business.”
Though they still sell to markets and restaurants, they also sell at their very own retail store in downtown Davis, which opened in March 2019. Despite their massive growth and success, Kalinsky said the Davis market, the company’s first market ever, remains a very special place for Upper Crust and for the Davis community.
“The Davis Farmers Market is unique,” Kalinsky said. “It’s the best one that I’ve ever encountered and the Davis farmers’ market has something unique about it that has to do with the way it’s run, the vendors and the community that supports it. The Farmers Market is really the community event of the week in Davis and it is something that the community reports and people use it as a part of their weekly routines.”
The Davis Farmers Market has been “the jewel of Davis from [its] beginning,” according to MacNear. Between Randii MacNear’s leadership, the long standing history of family farmers and the community that consistently shows up, the market brings together the community, which Annie Main believes is the reason for its success.
“The market is the place you can go to no matter who you are, what you believe or whatever, and it’s common ground,” Annie Main said. “Everybody is welcome and it’s a really unique place to be.”
Written by: Katie DeBenedetti — firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction: A previous version of this article named Good Humus Produce as Good Hummus. The article has since been updated. The Aggie regrets the error.