1.2 Million Tokens: The Busiest Farmers Market Info Tent in California

The Heart of the City staff team works hard to increase vendor revenue by facilitating customer spending, attracting new customers, linking our vendors with food assistance programs that increase customer spending, and shouldering the burden of paperwork for our farmers to accept alternate forms of currency. In 2016, grant writing and promotional efforts by market staff increased vendor revenue by $453,634, a new record.

Staff at our market information tent handed out 1,192,733 tokens in 2016, an average of 12,000 tokens per market day. That is unprecedented for a farmers market and makes us the largest farmers market token program in California and one of the largest in the nation. Our program has grown so big that our small team must work at a frantic pace to meet the demand for sales, redemption, tracking, reporting, and inventory management.

EBT Program: We hit a new record high in 2016 in our efforts to expand our EBT customer base. EBT sales in 2016 increased by more than $85,000 over 2015 sales. Due to our ongoing promotional efforts, EBT sales have increased by 322% from $123,000 in 2010 to over $419,188 in 2016. We are the largest EBT program of any California farmers market and are held as a national model for executing large-scale EBT operations on a low budget with a smaller than average staff team.  We train other market managers on best practices to create strong community partnerships and manage a high-volume system.

Market Match Program: Our staff continues to execute a two-year federal Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive grant secured in 2015 that allows us to match all EBT purchases up to $5.  $255,618 in blue Market Match incentive tokens was distributed in 2016, which EBT customers used to purchase additional produce from our farmers.  This program alone provided an average of $4,925 in extra sales revenue per farmer in 2016.  We are currently working with the Ecology Center to apply for funding to continue this program for another three years.

EatSF and CHIVES Voucher Program: Heart of the City Farmers Market has partnered with San Francisco General Hospital Foundation and the EatSF team to provide fruit and vegetables to low-income Tenderloin residents in need. At the end of 2016, this partnership was expanded to include more participants as a part of the CHIVES program. Market staff accepts and fills out vouchers at the market tent in exchange for red tokens to shop with farmers. Our farmers benefitted from $113,016 in extra revenue from this program in 2016.

Credit Card Program: We continue to facilitate customer spending and level the technological playing field among vendors by swiping credit cards at the market information tent in exchange for green tokens.  Credit card purchases increased to $440,032 in 2016 from $404,911 in 2015.  We continue to pay the credit card processing fees at no cost to farmers or customers.

WIC Program: We continue to help farmers by redeeming their Women Infants and Children and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers for them, so they don’t have to deposit them in their own bank accounts or pay any of the associated fees. Farmers turned in $35,609 to us in WIC checks in 2016.

Market Match Generates $225,000 for Low-Income Customers and Farmers

In June 2015, Heart of the City Farmers Market launched its first ever Market Match program thanks to the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive grant, a new partnership with Ecology Center, and three generous community sponsors: Kaiser Permanente, Bi-Rite Market, and PES Environmental, Inc.

During its first year, Heart of the City's Market Match program matched all EBT card purchases up to $7 with extra dollars to shop for fruits and vegetables.  Low-income shoppers were able to double their spending power each market day thanks to funding secured through this program.  We are proud to report that $225,000 was distributed as Market Match dollars during the first year of the program, stretching limited food budgets and bringing a much-needed source of additional revenue for our small farmers.

Heart of the City Farmers Market has secured funding to continue the Market Match program for another year.  EBT customers' purchases will be matched up to $5 each day they shop with our farmers until April 2017.  Over $200,000 in funding has been secured to provide this extra support to EBT customers struggling to afford fresh produce in a city with the highest cost of living in the nation.

EatSF Vouchers Help Us Bridge the Gap

Because some low-income residents in San Francisco may not qualify for EBT, Heart of the City Farmers Market has teamed up with the EatSF healthy food program, which provides vouchers for free fruits and vegetables to low-income San Franciscans.  Participants of this program may use their vouchers at our market information tent to receive tokens to shop for healthy produce from our local farmers.  This has generated over $50,000 in extra revenue for small farms so far.

EatSF assists low-income San Franciscans with basic needs related to food and health. The program facilitates healthy eating, extends food budgets, drives the local supply of produce, and enhances the economic health of low-income communities. “The EatSF program is a win-win. It helps low-income SF residents afford healthy produce, which improves health. It also helps address food deserts by supporting the ability of food vendors to stock healthy produce.” Dr. Tomás Aragón, Health Officer, San Francisco Department of Public Health

For more information on this fantastic program, visit eatsfvoucher.org.

We're Relaunching our Nutrition Education Program!

Heart of the City Farmers Market has been awarded $100,000 from the USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program to relaunch our nutrition education outreach program, including market tours and offsite workshops in the surrounding low-income Tenderloin community to educate about small farming and how to afford healthy, local, and sustainable produce on a limited budget.  200 workshops and 48 market tours are planned for the next two years.  If you want us to visit your community organization or school, contact us at kate@hotcfarmersmarket.org.

Heart of the City Farmers Market will also be holding monthly cooking demonstrations at the farmers market to teach strategies to cook with produce for residents of the Tenderloin's SRO housing stock without access to a kitchen.  We've also teamed up with the San Francisco Public Library to facilitate their monthly "Biblio Bistro" food demonstration series at Heart of the City Farmers Market. 

A 12% EBT Participation Increase Thanks to Kaiser Permanente

A generous gift of $20,000 from Kaiser Permanente has resulted in a 12% increase in the amount of fresh produce purchased at our market by EBT participants, which not only helped promote access to fresh food in a food desert but also supported small farmers at a time when local small farming is severely threatened.

Due to the high need in our community, Heart of the City Farmers Market has accepted food stamps since our very first market day 32 years ago and today our EBT (electronic benefit transfer) program is one of the largest and most successful in the country. 

Kaiser’s support has enabled us to incorporate an additional staff member on market days to meet the demands of a growing EBT Program and conduct EBT outreach to increase awareness that SNAP/CalFresh participants may use their benefits to purchase healthy food at Heart of the City Farmers Market. As a result, we saw a 12% increase in EBT participation despite our 2014 program challenges, including Federal cuts to the EBT program and decreased farm participation at our market as a result of California’s devastating drought.


We've Increased EBT Participation by 27%!

The staff team at Heart of the City is proud to report that we've successfully increased participation in our EBT program by 27% in 2013!

Though we've been a small farmer-operated non-profit since 1981, we received our first grant ever after pledging to increase the number of low-income residents who use their EBT benefits to purchase fresh local produce from farmers. The USDA granted us $94,000 to increase awareness that food stamps may be used to purchase healthy fresh food here in the Tenderloin and to open a new market day on Fridays for our low-income "food desert" that lacks a grocery store. Our community has an average life expectancy that is 20 years lower than surrounding communities due mainly to preventable diet-related diseases, shining a light on the fact that we live in a food desert that lacks affordable fresh food options and that poverty is one of the biggest hurdles to a healthy diet.

We achieved our goal through nutrition education outreach and promotion and generated an additional $46,000 in EBT revenue for our small farmers in 2013. To learn more about our project and efforts to support our community, view our final report here: Heart of the City Farmers Market FMPP 2012 Final Report.

We now accept over $250,000 each year in EBT purchases to get fresh, healthy, local produce into the hands of residents living in San Francisco's poorest community, making us one of the most impactful sources of fresh food in our food desert. 

Happy New Year to all our friends and supporters! We are so grateful and proud to be a part of this neighborhood and wish you all a happy and healthy 2014.

Each Week Farmers Donate Over 1,500 Pounds of Produce

Heart of the City farmers have teamed up with Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation to donate produce for free distribution to those in the Tenderloin and Mid-Market neighborhoods who cannot afford to incorporate fresh produce into their diets even with the aid of Heart of the City Farmers Market's EBT program, which enables residents to purchase food from farmers with food stamps.

Volunteers from TNDC collect produce donated by farmers at the end of each Wednesday market day and distribute it free to residents at a Free Produce Store in the heart of the Tenderloin. Over 1,300 pounds of produce is donated each day by farmers. On Sundays, Project Open Hand collects produce that they use to deliver healthy meals to residents with mobility challenges. To listen to KGO Radio's spotlight on this effort, click here.

Heart of the City Farmers Market is a non-profit with a mission not only to support small-scale farming, but also make fresh produce accessible to everyone and help to create a Healthy Heart of the City.

Other  “Healthy Heart of the City” Efforts by Farmers

Our farmers market is dedicated to nutrition education  outreach.  Last fall we did 5 workshops  in after-school programs and affordable supportive housing buildings  (partnering with TNDC, Glide, and the Boys and Girls Club) to teach about produce,  farms, and healthy choices, then took participants on tours of the market to  meet the farmers in person. We call these our "Healthy Heart of the City  Workshops" and have plans for six more this fall. We partner closely with  Department of Public Health’s Feeling Good Project to offer nutrition education  activities for the community and the Office of Women's Health and Chinatown  Public Health Center to offer free health resources during market days. Our  farmer-run Board has donated over $50,000 to local non-profit organizations  since the market was founded. 

$94k USDA Grant Awarded to Heart of the City Farmers

A Farmers Market Promotion Program grant awarded for 2012-2013 will enable Heart of the City Farmers Market to bridge the gap between local, healthy food and San Francisco’s Mid-Market and Tenderloin neighborhood “food desert.”

For 31 years Heart of the City Farmers Market has operated in San Francisco’s United Nations Plaza as an independent, farmer-operated non-profit market with a mission to bring a much-needed source of affordable fresh food to the  Mid-Market and Tenderloin "food desert" that for more than three decades has been without an affordable supermarket within walking distance.  Heart of the City’s mission is to keep costs low for small family farmers through subsidized stall fees, which helps keep  produce prices lower for the low-income residents of the Mid-Market and Tenderloin neighborhood.

Due to the high rate of poverty in this community, 60% of CalFresh/SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) used at San Francisco farmers markets to buy fresh produce are used here at Heart of the City. 

“The total amount of purchases made here with an EBT card has grown by 30% each year for the past three years,” said Kate Creps, the market's Executive Director. “For many in this neighborhood, using their food stamp benefits is the only way they can afford  to incorporate fruits and vegetables into their diet.  We know there are many who don’t know they can use their EBT card to shop here but with our limited resources, but our ability to promote and staff this program has not been able to meet the rising need.”

The Department of Agriculture has pledged its support to help change that. $93,778 in federal funding for Heart of the City Farmers  Market was announced on September 21, 2012, by Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan as part of the USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program, which will provide over $9 million in grants in 2012 to organizations across 39  states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico for initiatives that bolster the connection between agricultural producers and their consumers while improving access to healthy food and strengthening local economies. 

“This funding is so exciting for us because to date this market has been 100% stall fee supported and each project we undertake must be paid for by our farmers, who are struggling to survive in this economy,” said Kate Creps.  “Consequently our efforts  have been limited to what we can do inexpensively with our tiny staff team.  These funds will enable us to go above and beyond our current ability to outreach to and support this community.”  Funds will be used to launch an awareness campaign to promote the use of CalFresh/SNAP benefits (food stamps) to purchase healthy foods at the farmers market and to offset start-up costs of a new year-round farmers market on Fridays to increase access to fresh food for local residents.

On August 3, 2012, Heart of the City Farmers Market launched a new Friday farmers market from 7am to 2:30pm at the United Nations Plaza to give residents easier access to fresh food and to lend a hand in Mid-Market revitalization efforts.  “New farmers markets always have a difficult start-up period as customers get accustomed to the new market day.  During this period it costs more for farmers to travel to and staff the market than they profit from sales,” said Kate Creps.  “Because our mission is to support our small family farms and help them survive through this recession economy, we have not been charging our farmers stall fees and have been absorbing the start-up costs. This grant is a welcome reprieve.”

Farmers Market Promotion Program funds will enable Heart of the City Farmers Market:

  1. To provide free stall fees for our farmers on Fridays for six months to       encourage them to continue participating on Fridays until the number of       customers rises and the market becomes profitable. 
  2. To ensure that the new Friday market day will be a year-round market.  Heart of the City Farmers Market’s Wednesday and Sunday markets are year-round rain or shine, but the winter brings slower months with a smaller produce selection and fewer customers on rainy days.  Concerns that the new Friday market day would not survive through the slower winter are overcome by this welcome source of financial support.
  3. To hire one additional staff person to help us staff the market’s EBT machine       and do outreach to neighborhood community organizations, supportive       housing buildings, schools and after-school programs to teach residents       how to use their food stamps to purchase affordable, fresh-picked produce.
  4. To facilitate free nutrition education workshops and farmers market tours to connect local residents to our farmers and encourage healthy, sustainable food choices.

Heart of the City Adds a New Friday Market Day

Beginning August 3, 2012, Heart of the City Farmers Market will add a new Friday market day to its Wednesday and Sunday weekly market schedule.  The market will be open from 7am to 2:30pm every Friday at the United Nations Plaza.

"Many customers have been telling us that two days a week just isn't enough," said Tony Mellow, a farmer Board member who has been selling at the market since our very first day in 1981.  "We've opened this new market day to help meet the needs of this community."   

There is no full-service grocery store for residents of the Tenderloin and Mid-Market neighborhoods, so many rely on Heart of the City Farmers Market to provide a much-needed source of fresh produce in the heart of San Francisco. 

"The Super Market" Heart of the City Turns 30!

Heart of the City Farmers' Market's 30-year history was featured in the July issue of the Central City Extra. "Heart of the City Farmers Market will champion its 30 years at U.N. Plaza at its 30th Anniversary Festival on September 14, having successfully connected local farmers to the city's famously low-income central city residents while continuing to move toward a healthier San Francisco. The food nation innovation, announced on circulated flyers in five languages, began Sunday June 14, 1981. Trucks laden with fresh produce, and hailing from Sebastopol to Winters to Fresno, rumbled onto the red brick plaza at daybreak..."

Click here to read more: http://www.studycenter.org/test/cce/index.html