Saturday, October 19, 2013

Farmers' Market Struggles in Bayview

First published in a 2008 print edition of Bayview Footprints Local News that focused on business in Bayview.

The folks behind the Bayview Farmers' Market have been struggling for years to engage residents. It hasn't been easy.

Last year's food survey of our neighborhood made it crystal clear that we wanted new food options here, and that we would actively support them. 94% of us said that. We also said that quality was extremely important, even more so than price.

And yet the Farmers' Market, selling high-quality produce at better prices than comparable produce you'd have to travel somewhere to get, limped along.

In the early days, customers were disappointed because there were too few produce stands, and farmers didn't return because there were too few customers. And Mendell Plaza, where the Farmers' Market takes place, has long been an unfriendly place to many residents.

The market is different now. More residents have discovered it, and local food producers are there week after week with extraordinary produce from the neighborhood's Doublerock Garden, and from Alemany Farm just south of us.

This year, new family farm vendors and an organization called California Alliance with Family Farmers are boosting the selection of available produce. Each week, stalwart organizers such as Sraddha Mehta and her colleagues at SF Department of the Environment are on hand with loads of useful community information. On a recent Wednesday, nationally recognized chef, author and food justice activist Bryant Terry made the market experience even more meaningful with cooking demonstrations that used inexpensive and organic ingredients.

Even with all that is being provided, it's still the customers who make it a "community" experience. Some seem as though they are on an adventure, discovering something that somehow had been off -limits before. They might arrive with "don't mess with me" expressions, but leave with neighborly smiles and renewed confidence about Bayview's future.

The Bayview Farmers Market is a community-building effort that supports the health of residents, prevents crime during business hours, fi lls a gap in critical services, and showcases a sustainable model of food production and sales. SF Environment, Hunters Point Family, and other organizers truly deserve our appreciation for investing in us - and not throwing in the towel when we didn't show up. Growing the Bayview Farmers' Market further will require more than the ongoing commitment of those involved.

It will require residents to show our support in practical ways. Next time you see the white awnings off Third Street near Oakdale (every Wednesday from 9am to 1pm), stop by and say "thank you" to the folks doing the work. And, while you're there, why not pick up something fresh for your table?

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