Heart of the City: The Farmers Market in Downtown San Francisco is at-risk of take-over


POOR correspondent - Posted on 06 July 2010

Tony Robles/PNN
Tuesday, May 27, 2008;

As a child I would accompany my grandma to the market 3 blocks from our house. She held my hand as we walked. The trees seemed to bow before her, and the traffic, upon seeing her wide sunglasses and colorful scarves, would come to a respectful halt. I'd skip alongside her as we got closer to the market. Once inside, it was magic. Grandma knew vegetables - bok choy, squash, ginger and bitter melon. They knew her too, jumping into our cart as we made our way to the meat and fish section.

Grandma knew when fish was fresh by looking into their eyes. The fish would always look back and say, "You're that little girl from Sorsogon in the Philippines! I know you. You used to play in the river".  Grandma and the fish would exchange winks and the fish would come home with us, nourishing our bellies and minds - the smell lingering like a poem. As grandma used to say, "Fish is brain food, kid."

I think of grandma and the women who carry so much of the world in bags and sacks when I walk through the "Heart of the City" Certified Farmer's Market at Civic Center. People from every walk of life congregate there to breathe in the sweet fragrance of produce grown all over California with love and care. I watch them carry bags of apples oranges, and strawberries from places such as Stockton, Sacramento and Watsonville.

Christine Adams is manager of Heart of the City. Before becoming manager, she sold vegetables at the farmer's market on Alemany Blvd for 3 years. She is the market's 3rd manager with a passion for community and fresh, healthy food. "The market was started by a Quaker lady who ran it as a co-op to obtain food in bulk" said Adams, whose son assists her with the day to day (Wednesdays and Sundays) operation of the market. Afterwards, Market Street Development asked her to start a farmer's market. She declined, opting to sell fruit and vegetables from her stall for the next 5 years.

"The farmers come from all over" says Adams, holding her walkie-talkie, ready to assist vendors and field questions from reporters. They come from all over California. They bring dates from Death Valley and mushrooms from South San Francisco. "At the market, you meet the farmers personally. You get food that hasn't been refrigerated. Refrigeration alters the composition and flavor of food". Adams adds that the farmers are very much aware of environmental impacts. "You have to give back to the earth. Crop rotation saves the ground and insures quality".

The farmers rent their stalls for $25 a day--flat, no association fees. Adams sees the market as a vehicle to serve the community. "We're here to give farmers a space and give the public quality food. It was put here because it was in a low-income area. The supermarkets will gouge you".

Recently, the city's Chief Administration office (CAO) has proposed taking over the market - streamlining the operations and reorganizing the market's board of directors which is made up of 5 farmers and 2 community members. The CAO wants to take over the operation - which includes 67 stalls which grossed 187,000 last year.

In response to the proposed takeover by the city, the market has started a petition. Adams says what's at stake is the very heart of the area. "The city's proposal will kill the market. It's run by the community. The people who shop and work here run this market. Nobody owns this market. This market does have heart. All the booths are family owned".

As I walked through the market, I saw a group of children from a Tenderloin elementary school. They carried notepads and jotted down the names of fruits and vegetables, noting the smells, shapes and sizes. The farmers smiled and people of all shapes and colors walked about.

I came to a booth where I met a young man named Kevin. He sold cakes baked by his wife. Kevin made the trip to the market from Sacramento. His young son watched as his father showed me his array of cakes and goodies. "My wife and I started "A little piece of cake". She bakes everything and we sell them here. Business is good". I looked at the pineapple upside down cake, seven-up cake, chocolate and vanilla cupcakes and vanilla pudding.

"We want to start a bakery in San Francisco or Sacramento" he said as he put my cupcakes in a bag. "With rents so high, we might have to opt for Sacramento" he said. He said that he enjoyed working at the farmer's market. He said that working in a diverse environment as the farmer's market has helped him grow and become a better person. It was beautiful seeing a young African-American father with something to show his son. And by that I refer to the sweetest things under the sun.

It was the highlight of my day.

To help keep the Heart of the City Farmer's market as a community oriented place, please visit the market and sign the petition. You can also contact the Board of Supervisors and Chief Administration Office.

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