Half-an-hour’s drive south of San Francisco, along the edges of the bay, a string of towns and cities line the peninsula like a string of beads – with famous names like San Mateo, Menlo Park, Stanford and Palo Alto. But what used to be separate towns in the last century have since grown together to where the borders between them are no longer apparent to the casual observer. Ever since the middle of the last century, this region has attracted successive waves of “Hi Tech” industry such as Hewlett-Packard, Intel, IBM, NASA, and Xerox-PARC. Then since the turn of the new century, this growth has accelerated even further with names like Apple, Google, and Facebook dominating local industry – earning the region the encompassing name of “Silicon Valley”.
It was here, in the City of Menlo Park nearly 30 years ago, that five local women detected a need. It was hard to define exactly what the problem was, but somehow, with the rapid influx of Hi-tech workers and associated supporting businesses, the town was starting to lose its centralized sense of community. The influx of new residents needed to be embraced and integrated to foster a feeling of joint community, of common ownership, of belonging. Something that would attract people and bring them into the downtown and give it some life.
These five ladies approached the Board of the Menlo Park Live Oak Lions Club with the idea of organizing something like a weekly Farmers Market to fill this need. The Board saw the potential - where the Club could sponsor the market, thus covering the insurance requirements, and local farmers would be invited to set up a stall in a in a downtown parking lot offered by the City of Menlo Park to be set aside for this purpose every Sunday.
Past President John Hickson of The Menlo Park
Live Oak Lions Club at the entrance to the Market
The market would operate year-round on a weekly basis, and the Lions would charge each stall holder a small fee which would be used to pay for operating expenses such as County License fees, and a part-time manager.
And thus was born the Menlo Park Farmers Market which is now approaching completion of its third decade in operation. It continues to thrive as a weekly produce market, bringing nature’s bounty from the nearby farms, fresh to the consumers living and working in the hi-tech world of Silicon Valley.
It does this not only by making fresh produce available to the shopping public regularly every week, it also helps sustain a community of farmers - some of whom have been bringing their fruits and vegetables to the market since the market started - and the second generation of those founding families are there every week selling their fruit and vegetables.
The market continues to be sponsored and run by a dedicated group of volunteers - members of the local Menlo Park Live Oak Lions Club. And this further goes to amplifying the benefits of the market to an even wider community. After covering the costs of operating the market, the profits from the farmers’ stall fees go into the activity account of the Lions organization for further distribution in support of needy organizations.
But of even greater impact - many of the farmers donate their excess produce at the end of each weekly market to be collected and distributed by The Lions to local food kitchens and other organizations that help feed those in need. The amount can vary from a few hundred pounds of fresh food during the depth of winter when harvests are meager, to over a thousand pounds per week at the height of spring and summer.
In the first twenty-eight years of the market's operation, the Menlo Park Live Oak Lions have collected over a million pounds of donated produce from our farmers, and this has been provided to non-profits serving the needy in both our area and that of Half Moon Bay on the coast. At the same time they have donated around $35,000 per year (totaling over $936,000 since the beginning) to local community groups and to the Lion’s Activities and Disaster fund. They are now in their 29th year of operating the Sunday Farmers Market.
Besides Fruit and Vegetables, the market also has stalls selling flowers, eggs, and similar farm produce.
Of the five original founding ladies, two are still active Lions members involved as volunteers in the running of the market.
The original mission behind the market was to set up a public service that would provide a community-sustaining vehicle, by providing year-round access to fresh locally grown foods – not only to the public at large, but (as it turned out) a major source of sustenance to the needy and less-fortunate who nevertheless live amongst us, in and around today’s Silicon Valley. But a more subtle benefit has been the impact on the downtown. Inviting musical groups to perform under the huge old Oak Tree at the entrance to the market (a practice which has had to be temporarily suspended during the Covid pandemic) has further grown the market into a bustling attraction for downtown foot-traffic. This in turn has revitalized new cafes, restaurants and retail stores on the main street – providing a community hub for the diverse residents of Menlo Park.
Shopping for different kinds of seasonal stone fruit such as plums, apricots, peaches and nectarines
On a recent Sunday morning, a visitor to the market could overhear accents that originated not only in Boston, Houston, and Seattle, but also Sweden, France, Brazil, Mexico, India, China, Russia, Japan and more. All of these mixed in with the voices of longer-term native Californians - and maintaining the human touch of community and a connection with nature in today’s Hi-Tech Silicon Valley.
We look forward to celebrating our 30th year of operation in the near future.
The Menlo Park Live Oak Lions Club
The Farmers who make the Market what it is
The volunteers who add their efforts to benefit the community in all the various ways.
We Salute You!