$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.