It's been three months since Ridgecrest had a farmer's market, but that's about to change. The Ridgecrest Friday Night Market will hold its first market event from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, March 16 in the Tractor Supplies parking lot at 911 South China Lake Boulevard.
Onyx Family Farms led Ridgecrest's previous farmer's market, known as Balsam Street Farmer's Market. They had to shut it down on Dec. 12, citing a mix of low attendance coupled with unexpected financial woes.
Schroeder's Kettle Corn is spearheading the market this time. Schroeder's Kettle Corn owners Tonya and Michael Schroeder told the Daily Independent on Thursday that they've been looking for a way to bring back the farmer's market ever since is shut down three months ago.
"Ever since the previous market closed down, we've been talking with fellow vendors about bringing the market back so that they, as well as ourselves, have a venue where we can do what we do and what we love," Tonya said.
Technically, Friday Night Market isn't a farmer's market just yet. The Schroeders explained that there's a Department of Agriculture certification which they don't have quite yet.
The certification shows that there's no middleman so that sales go directly from producer to customer. At the moment, the Schroeders said they're acting as the middleman between the producers and customers, but they're working with the vendors to find a way to make it financially feasible for them to attend the market in person and allow it to be a certified official farmer's market.
Still, they said there will be at least 20 vendors at the first Friday Night Market on March 16. Five Dog Farms will attend, selling their jellies and jams and other products. The Schroeders said that Rankin Ranch will also attend once a month, selling their beef and honey.
Friday Night Market isn't just produce like fruit and vegetables. The Schroeders said there will also be booksellers, jewelry and clothing vendors, baked goods, and art. There will also be, of course, kettle corn.
They aren't just looking to restart the market, they've also got ideas for taking it into a new direction. They that at the Balsam Street Farmer's Market, many people came to buy their products and then left, like a grocery store. The Schroeders said that they've been vendors at other farmer's markets where people come not just to shop, but to enjoy the event itself. They envision this style for Friday Night Market.
"We want to make Friday Night Market a place to go with families. We want to have children activities and to involve the rock painting community, really anything to do with community and family," Tonya said.
"When the Balsam Street Farmer's Market closed in Ridgecrest, we felt it was a blow to the community," Michael said, "So we've been brainstorming ways we could get the community involved and spread the word."
Throughout the interview, Michael and Tonya frequently jumped in to add to each other's thoughts without missing a beat, sometimes multiple times per topic. Michael said that the two are an inseparable team who hardly ever spend more than ten minutes apart.
Back onto the community value of Friday Night Market, Michael said, "I think a marketplace can be a melting pot where everyone can come, giving people something to do on a Friday night and ..."
"People can get to know who's in their community," Tonya added.
They said Onyx Family Farms originally had plans to bring back the Balsam Street Farmer's Market, but as time went on it increasingly looked unlikely. Through conversations between the Schroeders and Onyx, the Schroeders eventually decided that they should take up the project. The change of hand was amicable; Onyx even let them take control of the Facebook page which they've since rebranded to Ridgecrest Friday Night Market.
Tonya said, "We've heard a lot of people reaching out and asking when the market will be back and what happened. The desire to have that market back is out there. We're trying to be there to help start something in the community that's positive."
"We're going to make sure it happens. We're going to try every venue and every angle we can until we get it working," Michael added.
The market certainly helps the Schroeders' business, and they see that it's a value to the community, however they also want to bring the market back in order to help grow the area's small businesses, many of whom handcraft and produce their own products but don't have the means to reach a larger customer base unless a market like this exists.
It's a mission that's close to the Schroeders' heart, because it brings them back to how they got started.
Michael said, "It's part of what we do. We love doing it. People ask us what it was like to get started, they say that we must be very brave or they ask if we still get worried. We do get worried sometimes, but it's worth it."
"If someone asked me if I wanted to do it all again, I'd say yes in a heartbeat," Tonya added.
"We wanted to be our own bosses, and we haven't looked back," Michael said.
They said that they were both working in an office and were making kettle corn as a hobby on the side. Family and friends thought their product was great and encouraged them to go into it full-time.
Michael said that they had planned to grow into it gradually, but then jumped in with both feet. For awhile, they got in over their head.
Problems they hadn't expected came up, such as getting the machines just right. Michael tried his hand at learning welding in order to make their machines, but it wasn't working. Both Tonya and Michael said local artist Skip Gorman came in to save them.
Gorman built their machines for them, and gave them all the necessary inspiration and encouragement. The Schroeders still call their machine "Skippy Pop."
After hammering out technical details of their business, markets from Bakersfield to Kernville to Ridgecrest helped get their name out.
The Schroeders now look to pay it forward after the previous market shut down by rebooting the market in a new venue with fresh faces to give small businesses access to the community and the community a market to call their own.