BRAWLEY — Local vendors, visitors, and entertainment acts filled the North end of the city plaza Saturday night for Brawley Farmer’s Market. The lights, music, and crowds just off of Main Street were a familiar sight for the city residents, and for those attending, the event was less of a spectacle to observe and more of a way to socialize, enjoy food and drinks, and browse through fresh produce and local products.
Many attendees brought their own lawn chairs to lounge in the grass as musicians and other acts performed on the kiosk. Others congregated around the beer garden, occasionally drifting toward a nearby booth to inspect the merchandise before returning to their conversation circles. Children ran around in the closed-off section of the street or sat in the grass enjoying tacos and toys with their parents.
But working to create a lively yet comfortable space for the street fair has been a learning process for all involved.
The night’s event originally was to include a burger cook-off, but instead, planners opted for a more traditional farmer’s market. Being flexible and willing to change course has proved to be a critical skill in a city that is still relatively new to having regular events that emphasize local products and businesses. Like other cities in the Imperial Valley, the summer months disrupt the possibility of having a street fair every month. Creating a regularly occurring event that also stays fresh each time is a challenge that desert temperatures only compound.
For Brawley, Saturday’s Farmer’s Market will be the last of the year until winter crops are harvested again. The next city street fair will occur with the arrival of the Cattle Call rodeo when temperatures are more favorable.
But progress has been made this year for Brawley street fairs. The outreach for new entertainment and vendors has been strategic for organizers to create a distinctive atmosphere.
“This year we have a lot of vendors who have not participated in our markets before,” said Katie Luna, Brawley Chamber of Commerce executive director. “We’ve tried to reach out to unique vendors and bring in people we haven’t seen before and it’s worked out really well.”
Businesses located near the event have taken advantage of the crowds, opening their doors and providing a place for patrons after the street fair closes.
“When we have our farmer’s markets, Foster’s Freeze, Johnny’s, and all that, is getting overflow,” shared Luna. “We’ll drive around to see if surrounding businesses are affected.”
Even stores with business hours that do not align with the event still benefit from the foot traffic, she said.
“If they just have their lights on, people can look inside and say, ‘I didn’t know that was there,’” Luna said.
Local vendors have also learned a trick or two about displaying their products and reaching new costumers.
Patsy Robinson of Brawley sells homemade decorations and other stylized items, and said she realized she would have to re-think her booth arrangement to make it more inviting. Her booth featured two points of entry and placed the cashier desk just outside the booth.
“This is our third time setting it up this way, and we found that it works well,” said Robinson. “People can get in and they don’t feel crowded and they don’t feel pressured.”
The open layout allowed attendees to take their time looking at the products, which included decorations, mugs, socks, and signs that featured phrases like “Your Opinion is not part of the Recipe.”
“This is something we do from our house. My husband cuts the wood and I paint it, and then I have a machine that helps me make silly little signs,” laughed Robinson.
The Brawley Chamber of Commerce, which hosted the night’s event, had to modify their own approach to selling fresh produce after a potential buyer remarked that she was reluctant to purchase any of the vegetables without knowing how it tasted. In response, a volunteer cooked up samples for people to sample, and printed out the recipes she used to prepare the food to give away to attendees. By 8:00 p.m. all the samples were gone.
The community emphasis and the special attention given to local products made the evening enjoyable, especially for vendors like Robinson.
“I love the local vibe with all the other home-grown businesses,” Robinson shared. “You get a different crowd, a more family-friendly crowd, and that’s really nice.”