21 Aug 2014
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On the Job: She Planted the Seed for Farmers Market

Andrea Hankins took matters into her own hands to start a weekly market in Santee.

For many years, Andrea Hankins thought Santee needed a farmers’ market.

She’d traveled to markets all over San Diego County and couldn’t understand why her own community didn’t have one.

Santee is a , so why not? Why should residents have to drive to Hillcrest or Little Italy to buy sweet corn, or or get to browse through products made by and artists?

Because she and her husband, Dave, have a in the Imperial Valley, she’s been a longtime vendor at all the big county markets and she’s seen how their communities embrace them.

Plus, a market in her own town gave her one more outlet – and a convenient one at that-- for the dates Dave was growing.

“I do sell to 14 different markets a season, and I always wanted one in Santee,” she says. “I tried to get another market manager to start one and they wouldn’t do it. They finally told me, ‘You do it.’ So I did it.”

In April of 2009 the opened in a parking lot along Mission Gorge Road at the old Santee School site, with about 20 to 22 vendors.

Hankins, 61, is the market’s sponsor and manager – “I’m it,” she says-- having done all the work to get it off the ground and keep it running.

Today the market features 30 to 35 vendors (3-6 p.m. in winter and 3-7 p.m. in summer).

“I’m proud of it,” she says. “I’d like to see it get better, of course. It’s going good, not fantastic.”

Getting customers – putting out the word the market exists, changing the habits of Santee residents who are used to driving to other markets– is “the hardest part,” she says.

But, all the work has been worth it.

“It’s a community benefit,” she says. “In every possible way.”

Lots of duties

Only a government (such as the ), a non-profit organization or a farmer can start a farmers market.

Because she and her husband are farmers, they qualified.

In order to get it up and running, she had to get the required city permits, grade the parking lot, sign an agreement with the (which owns the property), recruit vendors, do the marketing and advertising, arrange for portable toilets and agree to do the site preparation and cleanup after every market. Plus she had to find a day and time that didn’t conflict with vendors’ already established dates at other markets.

And, as sponsor, “I pay for everything,” she says.

In return, vendors pay her for their spots each week.

She says raising awareness, even after more than two years, is still a crucial part of her job. She distributes flyers around town and at local events and advertises in several publications.

There’s an ebb and flow to visitors– some weeks busy, some weeks not– but, she admits,  “It’s still a struggle getting customers.”

Some people either aren’t used to going to farmers markets, or simply .

“I recently asked one of my neighbors, ‘Why don’t you go?'” she says, and her neighbor cited the where she can buy everything at once, from milk to medicine and bread to batteries.

Despite the inconsistent flow of visitors, she believes the Santee market has now been around long enough to have a solid foundation for long-term survival. And, she’ll be a part of it as long as it’s alive.

“I will always be the sponsor, whether or not I manage it,” she says.

The main assets the market has, she says, are the vendors and the fresh fruits and vegetables.

“They make the market,” she says of the farmers and crafts people. “They are fantastic people.”

Her work comes before and after each market Wednesday. The vendors take it from there, setting up, selling and cleaning up. Many are pros who have done it for years, and they bring a sense of community to their group, helping and looking out for one another.

“One rainy night they were all helping each other, all pitching in,” she recalls. “My popcorn guy was great, offering to give everyone a hand… At some of the bigger markets you don’t see that.”

, it’s the star of the show.

The , the tomatoes tastier and everything is healthier than what comes from a supermarket, she says. The overall rise in popularity of farmers markets is because of taste and health issues.

“People want to eat healthier,” she says. “People are trying to take control and trying to eat healthy, organic food.”

From the area

Hankins’ family has deep roots in the east county. She grew up in the Fletcher Hills area and met Dave in school, even before they both attended Grossmont High. One set of her grandparents lived in Santee.

Today, she stays busy managing the Santee market, as well as farmers markets in Spring Valley (now closed for the winter) and Carmel Mountain.

Dave stays a good part of the year in the Imperial Valley tending to their farm, but spends as much time in Santee as he can.

Andrea works six days a week, and when the seventh day rolls around, she tries to spend as much of it as she can with her son, who lives in Ramona, and her two grandsons.

About 2½ years after taking the challenge to start the Santee market, she’s glad she did.

“Just getting people to eat the fresh, local food makes it worth it,” she says, listing items such as grass-fed beef, fresh breads, , baked goods, eggs and locally grown chickens. “It’s good and it’s fresh.

“I buy very little at grocery stores.”

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