“Once upon a time there was the most amazing farmers market on the planet!! I went every Saturday for years. I always met new people, dialed in with my neighbors and looked forward to this weekly gathering. So much beauty within our lovely community. These were such magical days in lower Puna!!! “ Nicole Lesh
Seaview Estates lost it’s best ever community building activity when we moved the SPACE market to Uncle Robert’s in July 2014. For six years local residents from all the diverse groups had rubbed shoulders amicably at our weekly gathering. It had grown far beyond a place to buy and sell local produce and products. It’s significance made the loss a great deal more impactful for hundreds of people living along the Red Road and for visitors from near and far who lavished praise upon our gem.
In 1998 when I began the Special Permit process with the planning department Seaview had been connected to the electrical and telephone grid for less than two years, the Red Road was still a wild ride and the building boom had not yet begun. With a very small local population nobody was even vaguely thinking about a farmers market. Ten years later when we opened S.P.A.C.E., Seaview, Puna Pallisades and Kehena subdivisions were rife with construction projects and the population was multiplying rapidly.
The needs of our neighbourhood were changing and community members who contributed in the creation of S.P.A.C.E. saw it’s potential for being much more than a home for the HICCUP circus. We had talented residents who wanted to use it for marimba, tap dance, ballet, theatre and drumming classes. Others talked about us hosting weddings, memorials, family and community gatherings, spiritual meetings and performances of all kinds. Uncle Robert’s was still just a family compound so the Akebono in Pahoa was our closest public venue for events and, following it’s refurbishment, was expensive and hard to book. Community is first and foremost about a sense of place and many residents wanted services available locally so we could build the fabric of our emerging village. When numerous people suggested starting a farmers market it was a no brainer.
We all knew that our Special Permit, granted in 2001, didn’t include any of these activities but collectively we all felt that the pressing needs of our lower Puna society superseded legal requirements. The universal conviction was that if it became an issue County government would appreciate our contribution to the health of our community and support us. Of course we had no idea how successful the market would become and in our exuberance, we were also blind to the potential negative consequences.
The SPACE market origins were very humble. Vendors were hesitant to come without customers and in order to attract customers we needed vendors. A few of the faithful decided to get the ball rolling. Jenna brought her yoghurt, Suzette sold baby blankets as a fundraiser for Shady Grove. Isla and I harvested Bellyacres tangelo’s and sold fresh juice and Jennifer made oatmeal cookies. The following week Norm and Suzette made pancakes, hash browns and eggs, I gave tours of the pavilion and green room and slowly other vendors joined us including Mikel with chilli and chips, Filthy Farm Girl brought homemade soaps and Johnson Farms became our first large scale fruit and veggies vendor.
In order to publicise the new event I posted several hand painted signs around Seaview and along the Red Road with a mixed reception. A few mysteriously disappeared or got tossed into nearby shrubbery but I kept replacing them until eventually the market had momentum and word of mouth became the only source of advertising we needed.
Week by week the numbers of people attending from all sectors of society grew steadily attracting longtime vendors who included: Larissa – Ukranian foods, Veronica – crystal jewellery, Wolf – masks, Tom – fruit, veg, smoothies, Kathy – pothead soup, Sahara – massage, haircuts, Yana – tie dyed clothing, John – omelettes, Raven – tarot card readings, Reiner – photography prints, cards, Ernesto – veggies, Banana Boys, Stone – silver jewellery, Vidipadidass – Tulsi drink, Susan – bread. We also had an Israeli guy who made pizzas in an oven made out of a recycled TV satellite dish and an old propane tank – probably the most creative cooking device we ever experienced.
Our first market manager was Jenna but after it got more busy we recruited Kelly Nafie. In 2010, she wrote the Farmers Market Promotion Program (USDA) grant that got us funding to start up EBT. We did over $50,000 in EBT sales the first year we had it and were the only market on the island other than Hilo that accepted EBT. Kelly later wrote another grant to get us the commercial kitchen trailer, expand the vendor space by pouring concrete on the south side and tarps to cover it, get more tables and chairs, etc.
The consensus of the S.P.A.C.E./H.V.C. board in response to the cease and desist order we received from the County was to support a civil disobedience action by continuing to operate our community service activities, but not our performances. We kept the school and the farmers market open to ensure that no one suffered from loss of essential economic and social benefits, and our HICCUP Circus programs. The planning director later backed down informing us that activities allowed under our existing permit could continue until but that we had to close down the S.P.A.C.E. farmers market. We complied for two weeks while we successfully lobbied the director to get it reopened on the grounds of economic hardship. And so it continued, subject to County survielllance, pesky restrictions like no live music and all under the hawkeye of a handful of complaining neighbours.
We had many success stories. Some of our vendors started at the market and went on to open storefronts in Pahoa and Hilo like Tin Shack Bakery, Locavore and Nicoco vegan ice cream while Filthy Farm Girl expanded to national markets and Seaview Farms (Rob and Bob) went on to start their own farm stand. I particularly liked it when the kids would sell things to fundraise. Taylor cooked to get funds to fly to California to work in a circus summer camp and Lillia’s boyfriend Joe gave her $50 for a rice krispy bar! Kalani, Thula and Malia raised money for aerial equipment and kids from our SPACE school had booths occasionally for similar fundraisers. Our own junkyard jugglers busked for their mainland trip to the International Jugglers Festival. Everyone was very generous with the kids.
We fondly remember the annual market anniversary celebrations where vendors donated prizes and Terry always offered a sight-seeing flight in his Piper Cherokee as the Grand Prize. Every second Saturday we had Swap meets on our lawn where people recycled unwanted items. At our vendor appreciation potlucks we gave away t-shirts, and other S.P.A.C.E. swag. For a while we even provided free Aids tests and had a mobile medical marijuana clinic. We also had sweet performances by the HICCUP kids and several local musicians until they were eventually banned by the planning director.
In 2011 we starting a Night Bazaar on Wednesdays where residents could enjoy arts and fresh food vendors while listening to music. It was a different vibe from the Saturday market, more relaxed with more time to socialise. Unfortunately it ended after we received a cease and desist order and eventually was reborn at Uncle Robert’s to become a much bigger and much loved legendary event. The Keli’iho-omalu family have never been intimidated by the County, never apply for permits and use the Lawful Hawaiian Government to give legitimacy to their activities. I wish now that we had been bolder and taken the same approach at S.P.A.C.E. Instead we allowed the unlawful occupying authorities to dictate what was best for our lower Puna community and personally I don’t think they really know, and maybe don’t really care.
Running the market came with a few challenges. Logistically someone had to go to the bank weekly to get $100 -$400 of small denomination bills to make change. That’s a lot of ones and fives to count! We had problems enforcing our basic principle of only Big Island produce and products. Some people had very different ideas about what was ‘local’ and we repeatedly had to say NO! If vendors tried selling items on EBT that did not qualify we had to constrain them so we didn’t loose the privilege. Dealing with certain dog owners was a constant issue with everyone claiming theirs was a ‘service animal!’ Jenna had to attend court a couple of times to testify in a dispute between Pothead Soup Kathy and Angela and Elena (who also sold prepared food). And then we worried about the Health Inspector showing up and trying to enforce mainstream rules on our alternative style renegade vendors. It was never a cake walk!
To top it off we had complaints about things like “she made cookies just because I did and is stealing my customers”, “why do they get a larger/better spot than I do”?, “if they are selling that item, then why can’t I sell this item.” Perhaps the most awkward conversation we had was with a guy who someone notified us was a sex offender. It turned out he had had sex with a 17 year old when he was 19 but we did have to eject another who was on the sex offender registry. Maintaining peace and harmony was our goal and so we appreciated the assistance of Norm and a few other vendors who held regular ‘safety meetings.’
By early 2014 the stresses on our S.P.A.C.E. team running the market where coming to a critical level. First our longtime market manager Maura became ill and couldn’t continue working. Then, due to economic difficulties, we couldn’t afford to keep Jenna as Executive Director and the crew at Bellyacres became tired and irritable and frightened by the fiery legal pit we had fallen into. For a few months an Executive Committee (Dena, Michele, Tristan and Graham) held it together but we all had other pressing commitments and couldn’t sustain the workload. In hindsight, I wish that we had put out to the community that we needed help with administration and perhaps we could have made it work and continued. Instead Dena and I had several meetings with Sam Keli’iho-omalu to discuss moving the market to Uncle Robert’s and helped him gather his team. It was a really sad day when we called all the vendors together and explained the move to them. We called the new market Outer S.P.A.C.E. and despite a rocky few years it’s now moved again and is growing – but that is another renegade story for another time.
The services that S.P.A.C.E. market provided to our community was made possible because dozens of great people worked really hard often donating their time and energy. Behind the scenes Sarah did a great job managing the parking lot and helping with the cleanup, Kalani and Shannon ran the EBT office and ‘First to work’ volunteers helped out everywhere.
The big bonus of our market was the sense of community that everyone enjoyed – how it brought (almost) everyone together literally shoulder to shoulder with one another. There was a feeling of shared ownership of the experience which is a powerful symbol of communal living. It was a very special vibe. So many people sharing stories, having a good time, making connections with neighbours and enjoying good food……
SPACE market closed in July 2014 but it will remain forever as a sweet memory existing in the collective consciousness of people like these:
Kai Sky, “I miss it so much! I set up a booth there a couple times and it was so fun to be there all day while Kahlil ran wild with the other kids.” – Noah Dann, “The high water mark I compare all other market experiences to” – Eric Avery, “It was Da Bes’.” – Robert Silber, “I loved making and serving coco cream smoothies for everyone.” – Terra Jeneane, “Gawd it was so awesome!” – Kiva Isabel Sanchez, “Definitely the thing to do on Saturday mornings” – Deborah Davis, “Best Love Bomb Market Ever! “ – Tao Levine, “a FORCE FOR GOOD on the Planet” – Adele Winn, “a highlight of the weekend…..social and high vibes” – Deva Dassi, “best ever !!!!!!!” – Lisa Alpine, “It was a weekly community must!” – Paris Latka, “The absolute BEST! I vended there for a couple years and purchased prized yummies!” – Maurice Fernadez, “it was a truly wonderful market – they killed a good thing.” – Lea Colter, “Heart Home! Saturday morning hug fix.” – Gina Rae Merritt, “I went every weekend forever and it was amazing. The people and food and the oils…it was magic.” – Anna Sanner, “I loved being a vendor and a visitor there. Great memories.” – Melissa Honeybee Plotkin, “Omggg the besssst!” – Dawn Marie Burke, “We lived in a magical dream back then. I remember people actually complaining (softly) that the thing about SPACE market was that there was just SO much hugging, it was hard to get the shopping done. What an avalanche of love we shared.“
Mahalo’s to everyone who made this magic happen and proved what a renegade community can do. Be inspired !