June 13, 2008

Fresh fruits and vegetables for City Heights residents

New farmers’ market brings access to community

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

Most of the time, for low-income families it makes more sense to buy four cup of noodles for a dollar than to buy a pound of fresh apples for two dollars.

For these families it’s not a matter of eating right, but rather about eating at all.

Thankfully, a new option was born last Saturday, June 7, for struggling families in the City Heights area, when the City Heights Farmers’ Market began to serve the ethnic population that lives in what’s considered the most diverse community in the County of San Diego.

Besides being the first farmers’ market that accepts EBT (food stamp) accessible in the county, the City Heights Farmers’ Market will meet the needs of the Latino and other ethnic communities in City Heights to find culturally appropriate produce, said one of the planners, Blanca Meléndrez, San Diego regional director of Network for a Healthy California, at the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Community Pediatrics of the UCSD School of Medicine

“The first day was quite successful, it was very exciting to see mothers from Africa, Asia, Latinas,” she said. “The community was eager to have something like this.”

There was a wonderfully festive and lively atmosphere. There were colorful flags flying overhead – three rows of farmers, vendors, and community clubs and organizations.

By 8 a.m. community members were already purchasing fruits and vegetables. By 9 am there was a continuous parade of moms with strollers coming in from all directions. Children from the nearby soccer fields came to the market, later heading back to the fields faces full of smiles, and hands clutching cookbooks.

“One community member even stopped me on my way to share how thrilled she was that the neighborhood had a Farmers’ Market – she said, she wished her mother was still alive to see this, as apparently, she has lived in this area all of her life!,” Meléndrez said.

It was a quite an atmosphere of diversity and welcome. Signage was displayed throughout the community, indicating the market’s presence and parking options. Signage was also very clear on each of the stations that WIC vouchers and EBT were accepted. Women and families with WIC vouchers in hand were ever-present. The people staffing the EBT table was very friendly.

While there were some needed formalities to the media event (lots of partners and elected officials to recognize, including County Supervisor Ron Roberts and City of San Diego Councilmember Toni Atkins), organizers did a great job of keeping the community in the spotlight. The speakers highlighted the need for local outlets of local produce, increasing affordability through WIC and EBT and highlighting the upcoming match dollar program that the market has applied for.

Organizers received $10,000 in funds from the Wholesomewave Foundation to start a dollar-for-dollar match program, where families would double their money when they buy up to $10 in produce at the farmers’ market.

Casey Anderson, membership and marketing manager with the Farm Bureau, said that the bureau is encouraging producers in the county to grow specialty produce that are used in ethnic cuisine.

He said that six farmers participated in the first day of the market, but this Saturday the number will increase to 10.

Meléndrez said that the farmers’ market will create a local interface between urban growers and farmers that can potentially lead to mentorship or land-lease opportunities; test the market for specialty crops in the refugee community and beyond; provide a potential venue for the sale of farm produced fruits and vegetables; and increase overall demand for locally grown produce.

One of the Community Programming booths-the Latino Campaign, gave out 1,800 goodie bags. One farmer sold $1,500 of produce and ran out of fruits and vegetables in an hour. The best part was seeing mothers finally able to use their WIC coupons and EBT cards to buy healthy food in their neighborhood.

“City Heights most diverse in the county, that diversity is reflected in our produce. Young and old in City Heights have ownership of the market,” Meléndrez said.

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