Ferry Plaza Farmers MarketI love living in San Francisco. In what other major city does the ouster of a sausage vendor at the farmers market become a platform for public debate?

First of all, a little background: This week, the Chronicle reported in a column by CW Nevius that the Aidells booth at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market was being asked to leave by the end of the month.

Aidells is the popular sausage company that was begun in 1983 by Bruce Aidells. In her book Comfort Me With Apples, Ruth Reichl recalls first meeting Aidells, having no idea that one day he would become the “sausage king of America.” Fast forward nearly thirty years, and Aidell’s is a $20 million operation with sausages available in your corner store. Aidells sold his interest in the company in 2002.

Each year, CUESA, the organization that oversees the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, assesses the applications of all market vendors (they must reapply each year) and makes decisions about what vendors will participate in the market. Needless to say, a spot at the Saturday market — one of the biggest and most lucrative markets in the country — is highly sought after, and participation in the market can bring a farm or purveyor into the spotlight.

CUESA takes this responsibility seriously. The vendors who have come into the market recently — Drinkwell Soda, 4505 meats, and Catalan Family Farm, for instance — are small business with fantastic, sustainable products and a ton of potential.

The ouster of Aidells is causing a public outcry, replete with signature gathering and a threat of protest by a sausage-dressed human this Saturday.

All day, every day, I make difficult decisions about what I am eating: whether it is sustainably grown, whether it was produced well and whether the people who grew it were treated correctly. The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is one place that I would like to go where I don’t have to think about whether the food I am purchasing meets with my exacting standards — I know that the vendors have been vetted by a full-time staff who has my best interest at heart.

This morning, I wrote an email to CUESA executive director Dave Stockdale (dave@cuesa.org) thanking him for making the tough decision:

“A 10-year market shopper here saying that I support your decision to move Aidell’s out of the Saturday market, leaving space for smaller, more sustainably-run vendors. When I go to the FPFM, I want to know that you have done the work for me — asked the tough questions of vendors — and that I can trust everything I buy there. I appreciate your making sure that all vendors meet the strict FPFM standards.”

I don’t think that Aidells is a bad company, and neither does CUESA. An email from Stockdale stated,

“Aidells is a story of success. They started with us as a small local company. They are now a national brand with annual sales reported in excess of $20-million, whose products are available in 46 states, including 31 stores in San Francisco and several area farmers markets. We are proud to have been one of the early venues for the company’s products and we’re thankful to Aidells for helping our market becoming a success. We see our market as an incubator for local businesses, and we want to use our limited space to provide this same opportunity to other local companies.”

CUESA is simply trying to stick to their own mission, which is to shine a light on impeccably produced food from the best our region has to offer.

Further reading:
If Aidells is out at the Ferry Plaza, shouldn’t Scharffen Berger have to go too? SF Weekly, 01/21/10
CUESA makes its case against Aidells. SF Eater, 01/21/10
Hotdogging earns Ferry Plaza booth an ouster. SF Chronicle, 01/19/10

Aidells Sausages out of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market 21 January,2010Jennifer Maiser

  • DanB

    Everyone who is upset about this seems to stress that because Aidell’s makes a few sausages available exclusively at the market, they should be allowed to stay. Well, if that’s the case, then why can’t every company that wants to set up shop do the same? Why couldn’t we have a Starbucks selling an exclusive Ferry Building Blend? How about a Fog-Blaster Velveeta from Kraft?

  • E.V.

    “The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is one place that I would like to go where I don’t have to think…” Really? You want Dave Stockdale to make your nutritional choices for you? Because he alone made the decision to oust Aidells, not “a full-time staff” of “vetters”. The thing is everyone at the market is very upfront about what goes into their food. For almost 20 years the patrons of the ferry plaza farmers market have approved Aidells by continuing to shop there and making it a viable business. Why not let them stay, and let the public decide for themselves if they are worthy?

    “Why couldn’t we have a Starbucks selling an exclusive Ferry Building Blend? How about a Fog-Blaster Velveeta from Kraft?”

    Because Starbucks was founded in Seattle, and Kraft in Chicago. Whereas Aidells sausage is San Francisco through and through. Plus, neither of those companies have been attending and helping build the Ferry Plaza market for nearly 2 decades. This is not just about a small plot of asphalt behind the ferry building. It’s about loyalty and community. But apparently CUESA doesn’t care about such things.

  • Steve

    I hope they replace it with a S.F. friendly vendor who makes the politically proper item that tastes like crap. What next, accepting only vendor’s who have ugly owners because ugly people need a break too.

    I have a novel idea, let demand drive the market….

  • kathleen de wilbur

    I am the Aidells Sausage sales person who who has developed and run the hot sausage booth at the Ferry Plaza Market. I have been part of the market since day one. My crew and I always attend the market, ran or shine. We are loyal and dedicated to what we do; feed people high quality, tasty hot sausage sandwich. The market placed us in the restarant section of the market. Our product is as worthy as any of the other food stand; Rose Pastola, Hayes Stret Grill et al. to be included in the market.
    For me personally, this is my livelyhood and I have many, many families that rely on their Saturday morning visit to us for a simple tasty hot sausage sandwich. There is room at the market for new new up and coming sauage makers and of us too. With the ecomony and unemploymet being so bad and want to keep my job. Thanks for the support from all my loyal customers. It means a lot to me. Yes, our company distributes nationwide but I feed customers right here and am proud on my little hot dog stand.

  • “It’s about loyalty and community. But apparently CUESA doesn’t care about such things.”

    I think CUESA caring about these things is precisely why it’s not the end of the world if Aidells leaves. Aidells is a huge success and that’s really awesome for them; what’s wrong with CUESA promoting a lesser-known vendor to that spot and giving them a chance to build a successful business?

  • ‘what’s wrong with CUESA promoting a lesser-known vendor to that spot and giving them a chance to build a successful business?’
    The response to this quote came in the one above…Kathleen wanted to keep her job. She worked for Aidells…she wrote and said ‘ I am the Aidells’ Sausage sales person’. As she also said…there was room for another sausage vendor there and in this economy they did not ‘need’ to drive her out. As she said in the original article she was facing a significant loss of income as a result of this move on CUESA’s part. The Farmer’s Market was not that big of a deal when Kathleen first started selling her sausage sandwiches at it back in the day before the Ferry Building…she stuck with them through it all., she has a lot of integrity and she will be missed.

  • DanB

    “Because Starbucks was founded in Seattle, and Kraft in Chicago. Whereas Aidells sausage is San Francisco through and through.”

    If you want to choose that music I can pick about a dozen successful and relatively large, local companies that can fill in that blank, the most well-known being Boudin. Wanna dance?

    I followed this story across several blogs and while I don’t want to pick on Kathleen, I do think that it should not go unmentioned that she has been more than a little disingenuous when presenting her side of the story. She’s attempted to position herself as the little guy and victim and lone entrepreneur, but cannot or will not explain why CUESA believes that they are ending a relationship with a corporate tenant named Aidells Sausage Company, and not Kathleen de Wilbur.

  • I miss Kathleen de Wilbur, her crew, and Aidell’s sausages. I spoke with Dave Stockdale at the Saturday farmers market recently and he said something like, “It’s not about the people.” I think it is…

    I agree that if Acme bread can sell outside, Aidell’s should too. Personally I don’t like Acme bread. I think it’s generic compared with Della Fattoria. But the people are really nice, and I know they have a long and rich history of making bread. It seems similar to Aidell’s Sausages.

    The thing about Kathleen and her whole crew is they are so loyal, dear, friendly, sweet, and kind. Kathleen’s license plate even says: BE KIND. Her daughter, Sarana, is a yoga teacher and Kathleen has always been generous with her knowledge and let me know when Sarana was teaching and had workshops going on. Kathleen has an amazing yoga practice too.

    Let me tell you, I have had the chance to work the sausage booth a few times over the years and she is very organized and has extremely high standards for her booth. She did wonderful things like offer local mustards and chutneys (Leon Day’s, available at the Marin Farmers Market) at the condiments table, even though this cost more.

    And I’ll never forget being new to the market six years ago and yes, being offered a free hot dog at the end of a long day. She has touched a lot of people. That passion is something that is always wanted at the farmers market.

    I’m going to keep lobbying for her reinstatement. It is about the people, all the people… and Dave Stockdale seems out of touch with the on-the-ground realities for farmers, artisans, and restaurants.


Jennifer Maiser

“My passion for food began young.”

I am the editor of the influential website www.EatLocalChallenge.com which encourages readers to support local farmers and producers.

I began my personal website, Life Begins at 30, in 2003.

I have been published in Edible San Francisco and Fine Cooking, write regularly for Bay Area Bites, Serious Eats, and have been quoted in many nationwide publications. Photography is a passion, and I have had photos printed in National Geographic Traveler and Travel + Leisure.

I contributed to a Williams-Sonoma cookbook: Cooking from the Farmers’ Market, which was released in February 2010.

I live in San Francisco, California and can often be found at local farmers markets seeking out the best of what’s in season and chatting with farmers.

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