Lodi's annual Farmers Market begins at 5 p.m. Thursday between Pine and Walnut streets in downtown Lodi.
"We look forward to the ambiance - return of farmers, produce and Lodi community to this year's Farmers Market," said Phil Biddle, chairman of the Farmers Market Committee and owner of Vine and Branches bookstore.
This year's Farmers Market will start with the same number of vendors as it had at the end of the 2002 market. The opening is a week earlier than last year.
"It is a full market," said Angie Nicholas, administrative coordinator for the Downtown Lodi Business Partnership. There will be approximately 18 farmers and 35 craft venders, she said.
Jon Tecklenburg, the Farmers Market grower's manager, said there will be less growers at the start of the market this year due to a combination of late storms and intense heat this spring. Melons, sweet corn and tomatoes won't be ready to sell in late July, about two or three weeks later than usual.
"One thing a farmer can't make up for is time," Tecklenburg said, referring to the fact that when he planted his ambrosia melons and can-dews in early April, the soil temperature dropped soon after and part of his crop died.
However, because the Farmers Market is starting a week early this year, there will be asparagus and cherry vendors, something previous Lodi Farmers Markets have not seen. Also, for nectarine and peach lovers, the early start this year will mean a sweet early crop.
Despite the changes, Tecklenburg is sure that the market will live up to its reputation. He participates in 19 Farmers Markets during the week - from San Mateo to Tracy and from Stockton to Sacramento.
"Lodi has always been a premier market and I don't expect it will change in quality," he said.
One of the things that has helped the Lodi Farmers Market climb to the top of its field is probably its ability to evolve.
This year, instead of hiring entertainers, Lodi is hoping to host the town's own talent through a "Star Search."
There were about 30 to 40 entries to create a poster for the contest, but still no one has applied to participate in the event itself. The DLBP is looking for Lodians who can sing, dance or have a promising band.
Another positive change at this year's market will be the increased number of local restaurants involved in supplying the food booths. According to Biddle, when Lodi's Farmers Market started nine years ago there were only a dozen eateries in the downtown area, which forced the Farmers Market to recruit outside food sources.
This is the first year Lodi encouraged its own food businesses to participate in the market. Food venders will include Rosewood, Scooters, Cafe Bistro, Tillie's and Cafe Yogurt as well as others. The California Ice and Kettle Corn booths will be among the veteran food vendors involved.
"We want to keep our money here so it makes sense to use local restaurants," Biddle said.
Individuals or groups interested in the Lodi Star Search can call the Downtown Lodi Business Partnership office at 369-8052 or visit the Web site at http://home.downtownlodi.com for an application.
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