What started out as an idea for a temporary marketplace has turned into something much, much bigger for CUESA, Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, which is celebrating 20 years organizing the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in 2013.

While the market is probably the most recognizable aspect of the nonprofit organization, CUESA Executive Director Dave Stockdale said that is only a portion of what they have to offer. “We have really focused on education that goes with sustainability. We not only sell people food at the market, but we want to teach them about what they are buying,” he said. “Teach them about where the food is grown, the methods farmers are using and the practice of growing things sustainably.”

The first market, which was deemed a trial run, has now become a model for markets around the world. Stockdale said they have had recent visits or inquiries from representatives in Algeria and South Korea. It has also proven to be a vital incubator for local purveyors. Businesses like Tacolicious, Cowgirl Creamery, Fatted Calf and Blue Bottle Coffee all got a chance to not only grow their audience at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, but also develop and try new products and get vital feedback from what would become their customer base.

Joe Hargrave, Tacolicious

“We started out as a stand at the farmers market. We really weren’t sure if it was going to work. But it gave us the opportunity to try our new concept out and broaden our customer base. And we still have a stand to this day at the market.”

Charlie Sowell, Rolling Oaks Ranch – sells eggs at market on Tuesday and Saturday.

“We had heard that CUESA was the market to be a part of. I had been working with numerous other markets and there just wasn’t the same support as I received with CUESA. They came out to the ranch, asking us about our farming methods; this was when pasture-raised eggs were just becoming a big thing. But this market has treated us great. One of the big things when dealing with markets is having consistency, a consistent spot in the market and the same vendors in the same location. I asked if they would be moving us around from the beginning and they have been really good about keeping us in a similar spot. This market only brings in the premier farmers in the industry.”

Ann Snyders, Snyders Bee Farm – sells honey on Tuesday.

“We love CUESA’s commitment to the urban farming community and the fact that they are able to reach out to so many groups of people because of the location. People walk to the market, take the bus or BART or even take the ferry. It’s such a great mix of visitors – business people, local residents, tourists and even chefs. They are very accommodating to both consumers and farmers. And there is such a high standard in the farmers that are allowed to sell here.”

CUESA is constantly working on new ideas and fresh ways to get the word out about sustainable agriculture. Some of the programs they have developed over the years include: Schoolyard to Market, a youth development and entrepreneurship program which allows students to grow produce at their school, then sell it at the market, Foodwise Kids, a classroom for nutritional education through a number of fun activities, Farm Tours, where shoppers can get an inside look at exactly where the produce they buy is coming from and the Market to Table program, which features Bay Area chef demonstrations on Saturdays.

And the celebration you ask?  Well there are a number of events on the horizon at which CUESA will be celebrating its 20th birthday.  Spring Cocktails of the Farmers Market is taking place on Wednesday, May 15 from 5:30-8:00pm.  Tickets are $40 and include two full-sized cocktails, 11 sample-sized drinks and hors d’oeuvres as well.  And on Saturday, May 18 from 9:00am – 12:00pm, the official birthday bash will be taking place, including four shortcake stations and a mimosa and juice bar.  Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for children 10 and under.