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Patrick Orosco, left, and Todd Champagne are the organizers of the Independent Market, which kicks off Thursday in Sand City.

Sand City has long vowed to reinvent itself as a progressive, green-leaning, artistic, connected community where residents live, work and play by the dunes.

After several failed attempts at redeveloping this former industrial center (leaving a trail of vacant stores, foreclosures and lawsuits), real estate developer and Sand City arts committee member Patrick Orosco has stepped in with four transformative words: "Devour. Imbibe. Create. Explore."

Toward that end, Orosco has created the Independent Marketplace, a community gathering that re-imagines the farmers market with an event he calls "a monthly experiment in food, drink, art and culture."

Orosco hopes the marketplace brings together area communities and creates a similar vibe to the popular summertime West End Celebration, a blend of art and industry in the area dubbed "SoHo West."

Housed at The Independent, a mixed-use, commercial and residential space once called The Design Center (800 Ortiz Ave.), the Independent Marketplace begins its run from 4 to 9p.m. Thursday. Entry is free, and Orosco invites attendees to just show up and roam.

Orosco owns the building through the Orosco Group in partnership with his father, Don Orosco, and brother Chris Orosco.

"The planning process was a lot of fun, with no rules. We're kind of inventing it as we go," said Orosco, who hired an urban studies student from Stanford University to conduct a three-month survey of prominent outdoor markets and fairs from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo. "We identified highlights that distinguished each of those markets, and picked the ones that we thought would resonate with the Peninsula."

The Independent Marketplace is not designed to supplant current farmers markets, but to enhance the experience for what project manager Todd Champagne identifies as a hungry foodie community. He also wants to "create a forum where we can jumpstart conversations about cultivating food and community."

Orosco seeks to create a "social experience where everything else is secondary."

"It's about food and it's about the culture of food," he said. "It's about art and also the culture surrounding art."

He and Champagne envision a family outing where friends can mingle, sit and enjoy a meal, listen to live music and gather around a common cause. The market will feature a different organization each month, with the inaugural benefactor being the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur.

The Independent Gallery will feature work from Big Sur artists, and Big Sur Spirit Garden DJ Jayson Fann will do some spinning. From 8 to 10p.m., library executive director Magnus Toren will screen shorts from the Big Sur International Film Festival, which begins in June. The screening is free, but Toren will ask for donations to help pay for needed renovations to the library's facilities. Look also for a pop-up bookstore selling titles and vinyl from the library, as well as a slideshow on its history.

If all of that sounds like a snoozer for children, Orosco and Champagne already thought of that, inviting parents to park their tykes in The Kid Zone for a spell (perhaps while the grown-ups visit Post No Bills, the craft beer house at The Independent). For the first Marketplace, Esalen's Gazebo will be hosting an array of things for kids to do and offering holistic parenting tips to moms and dads.

The idea is for folks to linger, so Orosco and Champagne have designed the footprint to include several lounge areas. A "bag valet" will allow visitors to load up on produce and park heavy bags in a safe place.

"We wanted to make it more comfortable and relaxing than a typical farmers market," said Champagne, who co-founded Pacific Grove-based Happy Girl Kitchen and sells his preserved foods at San Francisco farmers markets. "Relax, read a book, paint your face, draw with chalk on the floor. Just hang out. We want people to feel this is a party. The sharing of food and community is so pleasurable."

Champagne will curate the food selections, drawing from various independent farmers, ranchers and fishermen, food purveyors, brewers and winemakers. The market will provide organic produce, packaged foods such as dried fruits and nuts, and preserved or pickled foods a la Happy Girl.

For the inaugural market, attendees can grab dinner from hot food vendors such as Babaloo Cuban Food truck, Aqua Terra Culinary and Gabriela Guedes' exclusive Soup Club, or enjoy fresh bread from Big Sur Bakery and confections from Sand City's Sweet Elena's.

"We want to identify (vendors) who haven't been as readily accessible, and who don't normally participate in farmers markets," said Orosco, who stressed that the lineup of what he calls "tastemakers" will change each month. "We want to put their message out there and educate consumers."

Thursday's market will feature three local winemakers, including Thomas Perez of Kristi-Lynn Wine Group. Perez left his job as wine director for Aubergine and Cantinetta Luca in Carmel to create his own wine label.

"Participating in such an event with local producers and growers at a place like The Independent is not only fulfilling for me as a small producer but also for our community," Perez said. "And to be involved in helping the Henry Miller Library makes it even more special."

The Marketplace is held the first Thursday of each month. Next month's event on May 3 will feature a creative assortment of Mexican and Latin American food, music and art in the spirit of Cinco de Mayo. June will bring a tribute to Carmel Valley, and July's event will feature a rib cookoff in the spirit of Independence Day.

Beyond the food and wine, Orosco and Champagne insist the Independent Marketplace is about conscious-connected living and a sense of community.

"I believe it's not what we build that's important but the type of culture it creates and how the people respond to it," Orosco said. "Let's all get together and get this conversation started."

Mike Hale is a food writer and blogger from Monterey. Write to him at grubhunter@comcast.net and read more at www.thegrubhunter.com.


If you go
·What: Independent Marketplace, "a community gathering that re-imagines the farmers market"
·When: 4 to 9 p.m. the first Thursday of every month
·Where: 800 Ortiz Ave., Sand City