The first farmers’ market in San Luis Obispo was started in July 1978 by the Economic Opportunity Commission (EOC) in the parking lot of what was Youngs Giant Food (now Stanley Motors) on Broad Street near the airport. It started with about a dozen farmers and garden enthusiasts selling off the bed of their pick up trucks, out of the trunks of their cars, or off small tables. This was quite a sight, a huge parking lot with a small island of growers and curious first customers.

The EOC handed the market over to John and Charlotte Turner the following year. John was a retired elementary teacher, and Charlotte was a medical secretary. Enlisting the help of others, the Turners formed the San Luis Obispo County farmers’ Market Association. This is a mutual benefit not-for-profit corporation. In this capacity, the Association provides farmers with marketplaces, and provides the consumer fresh quality products directly from a family operated small farm.

The Association has grown from one market that sold $35 thousand of produce in 1980 to five markets with combined produce sales during 2007 of $2.2 million. This is significant growth!

Please note that there are approximately 15 farmers’ markets in San Luis Obispo County and are operated by several different organizations. Our Association operates five, which are listed below in the order they were established:

  • Saturday morning San Luis Obispo, in front of Cost Plus in The Promenade
  • Saturday afternoon, Arroyo Grande behind City Hall
  • Thursday afternoon, Morro Bay in the Spencer’s Fresh Markets lot
  • Thursday evening, San Luis Obispo Higuera Street downtown
  • Wednesday morning, Arroyo Grande in the Spencer’s Fresh Markets lot

Comparing the Saturday Morning and Thursday Night Markets

The Thursday evening market consists of two separate entities. Our Association operates only the farmers’ section of the farmers’ market. The BBQs, entertainment, etc., is operated by the Downtown Association. How did this market get started? The Downtown Association had long held Thursday evening for promotional events to increase downtown business. Despite their efforts the major event appeared to be 1970’s style cruising. Blocking the streets resulted in less foot traffic. However, in 1983 the Downtown Association invited the farmers’ market to join. It was the synergistic combination (farmers, BBQs, and community oriented entertainment and information groups) that mushroomed into the weekly event filling Higuera Street with thousands of people.

Ask most SLO county residents when and where “the farmers’ market” is. They will likely answer, “Thursday night, downtown SLO.” Many people do not know that there are other farmers’ markets in SLO.

Which of the two markets, Thursday night or the Saturday morning (Cost Plus World Market) sells the most produce?
Answer: Saturday morning. For example, produce sales during 2007 was $601 thousand for Thursday evening and $725 thousand for Saturday morning. Annually, the Saturday morning market sells 20% more produce than the Thursday night market.