Fresno’s popular weekly farmers market at River Park Shopping Center is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a new program on the way aimed at educating market goers about the bounty of crops harvested in the Central Valley.
Peter DeYoung founded the market in 1998 at a time when there were just two other farmers markets in the Fresno area.
What started as something that was simple fun for people on a Tuesday night has evolved into an important part of the community.
“When I started it was my goal to have it be something that would outlast me and be something that perhaps my children might find an interest in and wanting to be involved,” DeYoung said. “It was always the goal to do something that did so much good for the community that you couldn’t pull away from it, couldn’t stop it.”
The River Park Farmers Market hosts over 100 vendors, growers, food trucks, crafters and nonprofits on Tuesdays and Saturdays weekly.
During its peak season, DeYoung said the market averages around 6,000 customers per week, and over five million people have visited the market over its first 25 years.
Looking ahead, DeYoung sees the role of the farmers market as being one that is vital to the Fresno community.
“I don’t think that there’s been a time in our 25 years – maybe with the exception of during COVID – where farmers markets play a more important role in feeding people in the community,” DeYoung said. “There’s a lot of people on EBT, on welfare, needing social assistance. We manage several programs that do that. The growers have never been in more need with the situation with water and more challenged with the ability to sell their goods.”
Its location at River Park has also never been in question throughout the quarter-century.
“We’ve always had a great relationship with Lance Kashian & Co., and we realize that’s a symbiotic relationship that we do an awful lot of good for the community,” DeYoung said. “But it also helps the businesses on the property by attracting the people that we do every week.”
DeYoung co-founded the California Fresh Farmers Market Association in 2018, a nonprofit that oversees the farmers market.
That has led to a $500,000 grant that the association was recently awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help fund a three year program called “Celebrating the Bounty.”
The goal of the program is to educate the people living in the Central Valley about the specialty crops that are grown throughout the region.
The program will provide weekly cooking demonstrations by well-known local chefs for the community at the River Park Farmers Market.
“We are blessed with such amazing agricultural abundance in our valley,” DeYoung said. “If we don’t take on this role to teach the community and help our farmers this way, who will?”