People looking at produce at a farmers market
The Cupertino Farmers Market site is up for grabs again after facing community backlash over the bidding process. Photo courtesy of Rhoda Fry.

A popular farmers market in Cupertino is up for grabs in a battle over who can provide the West Valley city fresh tomatoes and strawberries — and it hasn’t been without growing pains.

The Foothill-De Anza Community College District has reopened bidding for the Cupertino Farmers Market following community backlash this month after existing operator West Coast Farmers Markets failed to reapply. The market, whose contract is set to expire July 1, runs at De Anza Community College every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. year-round.

District trustees reopened bids to accommodate West Coast after receiving 13 letters from community members asking to keep the same market operator at a June 10 meeting.

Rhoda Fry, a Cupertino Farmers Market patron for more than 10 years and a resident for more than 40, submitted one of those letters and said it wouldn’t be the same if another operator took over. She wants West Coast to stay so she can continue buying fresh cherries and strawberries there.

“This market serves our community, and you can see that in the diversity of the food offered and the diversity of the clientele,” she told San José Spotlight. “This is a Cupertino market. It’s been tailored for our community.”

Rows of cartons filled with strawberries on a table at the Cupertino Farmers Market
The Cupertino Farmers Market site has been a neighborhood favorite for more than 10 years. Photo courtesy of Rhoda Fry.

West Coast founder Jerry Lami said he wasn’t informed of the bidding process and couldn’t locate or submit an application in time, raising concerns about how the district operates its farmers market. Lami said the Cupertino Farmers Market, which has changed locations several times over the years, attracts about 7,000 people per week with about 50 vendors, 30 of whom are certified farmers.

“De Anza should bend over backwards to help the community, not go out and try to figure out how much money they could charge for rent, because that’s all it is,” he told San José Spotlight.

The original bidding process, which opened in March and closed in May, was advertised and sent via email to West Coast and interested nonprofits on April 5, according to the district. It received one application from Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association, which runs the Creekside Park Farmers’ Market on Fridays from 8 a.m. to noon year-round, drawing ire from the community. The contract is set to last one year and cost roughly $1,100 per week to cover police and cleaning services.

Pacific Coast, which runs more than 30 markets throughout the Bay Area and branched into Cupertino at the Vallco Mall site more than 20 years ago, has to review the terms in the application before it decides if it will submit a new bid, Executive Director Allen Moy said. He added if Pacific Coast submits an application and is selected, it will bring a unique experience to the market.

“We really bring that focus on creating markets that support California’s small scale farmers,” he told San José Spotlight. “We make it a point that at least half of the space in every one of our markets is occupied by farmers.”

Moy said he understands the residents’ concerns, but said without the constraints of the Creekside market’s space and lack of parking, Pacific Coast could bring a thriving market.

“You can’t really compare that to a weekend market. There’s so much difference in just the amount of physical space available and the availability of farmers,” he said. “People who are curious about what we offer as an organization, I would invite them to check some of our other markets.”

Bids are due July 17 at noon. The district will offer a pre-bid education meeting to ensure all interested parties know how to apply, the key difference in the reopened process, district spokesperson Paula Norsell said.

“The district is committed to a fair and transparent bidding process that complies with all applicable laws and regulations,” she told San José Spotlight.

West Coast will submit an application this time around because Lami said this market is significant to him and his family. Cupertino was Lami’s first dive into the industry in 2011 before expanding to San Jose, Gilroy and Menlo Park. If they don’t get selected by the district, they will have to find another location for about 50 vendors they work with.

“It’s more than my livelihood,” he said. “It’s my life.”

Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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