Nesh (pronounced “Naysh”) Dhillon is operations manager for the Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Markets, which include locations in downtown and Westside Santa Cruz, Live Oak, Felton, and (added in 2009, after this oral history was recorded) Scotts Valley. All operate open year-round except the Felton market, which is open May through October.
Dhillon’s parents both grew up poor—his father in a farming family in northern India, his mother in rural Oregon—but with a preference for fresh, nutritious foods, which they passed on to their son. A high-school education at a Jesuit institution in Portland, Oregon, instilled in the young Dhillon a deep concern for ethical behavior, cooperation, and justice—values that, he says, have also informed his career choices. Initially aiming toward medical school, he shifted direction when he discovered sustainable agriculture at the University of Oregon. After a stint of post-graduation employment in bars and restaurants on the Oregon coast, he relocated to Santa Cruz, where he joined the staff of a local winery before taking a job as assistant manager for the farmers’ market in 2000, eventually moving into the operations manager position.
In this oral history, conducted by Sarah Rabkin on Thursday, November 20, 2008, at Rabkin’s home in Soquel, California, Dhillon discussed the emergence of the Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Market out of the rubble of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake; the market’s growth and evolution over the ensuing two decades, and the pleasures and challenges of managing year-round farmers’ markets in an agriculturally rich, socially diverse, sometimes politically contentious community.