Tag Archives: produce

A Farmers Market for Everyone.

For most people who receive food assistance from the government, shopping at a farmers market is out of the question. However, in City Heights, a low-income community in San Diego, the International Rescue Committee and the Farm Bureau have worked together to provide everyone with the chance to shop for local produce. Photo by Kerri.

For most people who receive food assistance from the government, shopping at a farmers market is out of the question. However, in City Heights, a low-income community in San Diego, the International Rescue Committee and the Farm Bureau have worked together to provide everyone with the chance to shop for local produce. Photo by Kerri.

On Saturday morning, Christopher and I took a trip outside of our usual range of travel. We went to City Heights, a community within San Diego, to learn about their farmers market.

Right away it was apparent that this farmers market differed from the one we are used to visiting. Ours is held at a local elementary school and has a wide variety of vendors and booths. In addition to fresh produce, you can purchase everything from crafts to fresh breads, and there is usually someone playing live music to the legions of locavores.

The City Heights farmers market is located on a blocked off street between a police station and low income housing.  There are significantly fewer vendors (this market is relatively new), and there weren’t many customers. However, as we walked past the booths we saw fresh greens stacked up and boxes of vegetables.

One vendor had long, slender, vibrant purple eggplants and dark green zucchinis at least a foot long.  I made a quick note to stop at that booth with the curly green kale for $1. What I first thought was a place for bike parking was group of  young punk rock volunteers teaching people how to re-build and repair bikes. But that is not why we went.

A table underneath a white canopy stood at the far end. There was a laptop, a wireless card swiping machine, a group of volunteers in colorful City Heights Farmers Market t-shirts and a sign that said “Use your EBT card here!!!”

Electronic Benefits Transfer, or EBT cards are swiped in exchange for tokens that can be used at any time at the farmers market. It is rare to even find a farmers market in a low income area, let alone one that accepts EBT.  In addition to helping people who already receive benefits, The San Diego chapter of the International Rescue Committee (IRC)  has volunteers helping to prescreen people to find out if they qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, and to help them fill out the initial paperwork.  They have volunteers who speak Spanish, Vietnamese and Somali.

This market is a joint effort between the IRC and the San Diego Farm Bureau which is also starting similar projects in two other areas. According to a volunteer with the IRC, San Diego County is  the worst in the nation for food stamp participation. This means that people who qualify are not receiving assistance for a variety of reasons. City Heights has the lowest participation rate in San Diego.

This was one of the busiest booths at the time we arrived. We waited in line to talk to someone. While we were there,  an older woman came up to find out what was going on and learned that she might qualify for a one time senior voucher.  A Somalian man was assisted by two women, one of  whom helped to translate.  No one was turned away as the volunteers explained the processes and helped people with their questions. While we waited we noticed a survey on poster paper asking customers how the market’s prices compared to those at the grocery store. Most of the feedback indicated that the prices were “similar” or “better.” When we spoke with two of the workers, one from the Farm Bureau and one from the IRC, we learned that they do survey’s every week to better serve their customers and vendors.

This particular market is able to offer “Fresh Funds.” Money is donated towards the program  and is distributed each week, so that people who spent $5 at the market get an additional $5 worth of tokens to spend there.  This encourages people to use their money on fresh fruits and vegetables and helps local farmers.

If you live near City Heights or another farmers market that accepts EBT and/or WIC, check them out and support their efforts. The City Heights farmers market Web page has great information about their programs and why it is beneficial to support community efforts that provide healthy food to all people regardless of income.

– Kerri

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Dancing “Food Justice”?

The Stone Soup Storytelling group dances out their version of how convential produces makes it to our plates.

Appearing at the Cultivating Food Justice conference in San Diego, the Stone Soup Storytelling group dances out their version of how conventional produce makes it to our plates. Photo by Christopher Greenslate.

Christopher told me a few weeks ago that he had signed us up for a conference on gardening this weekend. I have decided that maybe it was good that my first attempt at gardening became a snack for the dogs because my latest attempt is looking a little too yellow. I figured that I could benefit from some tips. What I did not realize, was that when he said “weekend”, he meant that it started on Friday night. The last thing I wanted to do after working late nights all week was drive almost an hour in traffic to a conference. But I went. I knew that once we got there I would be fine, it was just difficult to get motivated.

I was right, and I am glad we went.

The conference was not about gardening as I thought it would be, but instead about Food Justice. Throughout the conference, community gardens were one of the solutions offered to start making progress. The two speakers on Friday night were impressive. Rufina Juarez, a woman who was a part of the South Central Community Garden in Los Angeles, spoke about her community’s struggle to keep their garden, and the need for healthy food options in low income areas. The 30 tons of produce from the new location of their farm is taken to farmer’s markets in South Central. The fight to keep the community project was chronicled in an Academy Award nominated documentary called “The Garden“.

LaDonna Redman from Chicago spoke of how she learned about food and became active due to her son’s food allergies. A common theme from the conference was that many people seem to feel that people in need deserve food, but it is less common for us to think that they deserve healthy food.

Additionally, due to the current economic situation, more people are struggling and  trying to find less expensive ways to eat. In fact, the New York Times reported yesterday that restaurants are starting to offer menu items such as the cleverly named “Bailout Package” and other reduced price meal options in an attempt to draw customers into their restaurants, many which are trying to stay open.

The Conference was organized by the San Diego chapter of a group called Food Not Lawns. We went to sessions on traditional farming, local food stamp participation, and nutritional racism. One thing that struck me was the dedication of the community to trying to solve some of these issues.

However, the dancing and singing vegetables at lunch stole the show.

– Kerri

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