Thanks to a generous grant from the Stupski Foundation, low-income customers may now apply for an EBT card at our information tent.
CalFresh is a food assistance program that helps people stretch their food dollars so they can buy more fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. Formerly known as the Food Stamps Program, this is a federal program run through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Double your Calfresh dollars when you buy up to $5 in fresh produce at Heart of the City Farmers Market. Here’s how it works.
By Carrie Sisto
The Heart of the City Farmers Market in Civic Center/UN Plaza, typically open on Sundays and Wednesdays, has expanded to Fridays.
In addition to the regular lineup of local farmers selling fresh produce, the Friday market will also offer a new feature — a craft bazaar, in partnership with online craft marketplace Etsy and payment platform Square.
The new market launched last Friday, June 7. It's part of San Francisco's Civic Center Commons initiative to better activate the public spaces near City Hall, Heart of the City executive director Kate Creps told us.
The market expansion is the first of several planned activities for the Civic Center Commons this summer, said Joaquin Torres, director of the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development. Block parties, games and Zumba classes are also in the works.
"We are excited to highlight the best San Francisco has to offer while giving Tenderloin residents, Mid-Market employees, and visitors to the city an opportunity to engage with this vibrant neighborhood," Torres said in a statement.
A vendor selling cherries at the market on Friday, June 7.
According to Creps, the Civic Center farmers market used to be open on Fridays in the 1980s. But crime in the area was too high and business wasn't robust enough to support three markets, so it scaled back to just Sundays and Wednesdays.
The timing of the new Friday market is ideal, Creps explained, because recent legislation has opened up CalFresh, the state's food stamp program, to a new population who can use their EBT dollars to purchase healthy food at the market.
Prior to this year, Californians receiving Social Security (SSI) payments were barred from also receiving food stamps — the only state in the nation where that was the case. But last year, former Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that makes SSI recipients eligible for CalFresh, which typically provides about $130/month in food assistance to eligible Californians. It went into effect on June 1.
For each $5 in food stamps a customer spends to buy tokens redeemable at its vendors, the market matches them with a free additional $5, Creps explained. The matching funds not only allows low-income people to access healthier food options — it also bolsters revenues for the small local farmers and businesses who sell goods at the market.
The market has an information tent where customers can learn how to apply for and make the most of their CalFresh benefits. Creps said that having an extra day will give the market's staff a chance to better publicize the new law, and ensure more people have access to CalFresh and the market's matching funds.
EBT and other food assistance is welcome at the farmers market, which provides matching funds.
The Civic Center Commons initiative and SF Etsy have greatly smoothed the process of re-launching the Friday market, Creps said. For example, the city already provides stewards (through nonprofit Urban Alchemy) to monitor UN Plaza on Fridays, which cuts down on Heart of the City's security costs.
Civic Center Commons is also providing tents and tables to host vendors from SF Etsy each week, and covering the permitting costs associated with the market.
Getting Heart of the City's farmers on board was tougher. Creps said that some were reluctant to increase their appearances to three times a week, because it can cost more than $500 for them just to get to and from San Francisco and cover the costs of any unsold leftover products.
But several farmers agreed to participate for a trial run, and others may join if the market proves profitable, Creps said.
Shoppers visiting SF Etsy vendors at the first Friday market on June 7. | PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE CITY OF SF
SF Etsy, which partnered with Civic Center Commons last year to host first Sunday shopping events, was excited to get a chance to come back for the new Friday market, said Rebecca Saylor, who helped curate the SF Etsy vendors.
Saylor, who makes custom pillows as OodleBaDoodle, put out a call to potential vendors and received interest from more than 70 local artists. The city's assistance with tables, tents, and marketing significantly reduces the barrier to participation, she said.
Some vendors will likely be staples, such as letterpress card and stationary maker Leah Jachimowicz, while others will rotate. Shoppers can expect to find a wide variety of crafts, including glass art, eco-friendly jewelry, and screenprints. A regularly updated Pinterest board will feature the line-up of each week’s participating vendors.
The new vendors will sell their wares alongside the UN Plaza Gift Gallery, which already operates a craft market every Thursday and Friday. The Friends of the Public Library will also be selling used books on the first Friday of each month.
The Friends of the Public Library will sell books the first Friday of the month. | PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE CITY OF SF
Starting around noon each week, the market will also offer a free do-it-yourself project for attendees. For its first few weeks, local graffiti artists from 1AM will be on-site with tote bags, spray paints, and stencils, Flynn said.
Market customers can work with one of the artists, or try their own hand at tagging a new tote for their market purchases.
1AM artists helping market visitors paint their own tote bags. | PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE CITY OF SF
Square, which helped curate the market's vendors, is currently the only private sector partner for the event, said Civic Center Commons' Julie Flynn, with SF Etsy, Heart of the City, and the Civic Center Community Benefit District offering in-kind support.
The market is still open to other potential sponsorships, and to further tweaks to its hours and vendor mix.
“We’re very much in the feedback stage,” Flynn said, adding that anyone with comments or questions about the Friday market can contact her through the organization's website.
The Friday market is open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. each week, though some vendors will stay open until as late as 6 p.m., Flynn said.
The one exception is Pride Week: the market will close on Friday, June 28 to accommodate the celebration in Civic Center Plaza.
Read more at Hoodline.com.
The Heart of the City staff team works hard to increase revenue for local small farms by facilitating customer spending, attracting new customers, linking our farmers with food assistance programs that increase customer spending, and shouldering the burden of paperwork to accept alternate forms of currency. In 2016, grant writing and promotional efforts by market staff increased vendor revenue by $453,634.
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.
EBT Program: We hit a new record high in 2016 in our efforts to expand our EBT customer outreach. 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 small team. We train other market managers on best practices to create strong community partnerships and manage a high-volume system.
Market Match Program: Our partnership with Ecology Center's federal Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive grant 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 per year.
EatSF and CHIVES Voucher Program: We've partnered with San Francisco General Hospital Foundation and the EatSF team to provide fruit and vegetables to low-income San Francisco residents with health challenges that will benefit from added produce in their diets. 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 between farmers 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. We now accept WIC Fruit and Vegetable Checks.
VeggieRX: We also accept VeggieRx vouchers in partnership with Fresh Approach.
EVERYTHING SOUTH CITY
Submitted by Joe Fragola, Kaiser Permanente
Every Wednesday and Sunday San Francisco’s United Nations Plaza bursts with community-centered activity thanks to the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market (HOCFM), a 35-year-old farmer-operated market that sustains small farms and makes healthy produce accessible to customers of all income ranges.
“We are dedicated to the principle that everyone has the right to enjoy the benefits of fresh produce within a few blocks of where they live or work,” said Kate Creps, executive director, HOCFM. “The market serves the Civic Center and specifically the Tenderloin neighborhood, which is a fresh food desert with no supermarket, dominated by corner liquor stores and fast food chains.”
When Kaiser Permanente began its partnership with HOCFM in 2014, Creps proposed support for the market’s Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) program, which enables customers who take part in California’s food assistance program to use a card to redeem their benefits. With Kaiser Permanente’s initial donation, HOCFM was able to increase its participation in the EBT program by 12 percent, which equated to over $25,000 of fresh produce purchased by low-income patrons. An added benefit to more customers purchasing through the program is the direct support for small farmers who are the market’s primary vendors.
“Once we learned how much our initial support for the EBT program increased access to fresh produce for many of the Tenderloin’s most vulnerable residents, we were eager to grow our partnership with the market,” said Randy Wittorp, public affairs director, Greater San Francisco Area. “For years, we have financially supported San Francisco community gardens, healthy cooking classes, and nutrition programs. This partnership was a natural next step.”
In 2015, Kaiser Permanente helped HOCFM launch the first ever Market Match program for the Tenderloin neighborhood, which provides low-income customers with up to $5 free to buy additional fruits and vegetables when they use their EBT card at the market. This has been crucial for those struggling to afford healthy food in a city with the highest cost of living in the nation. Kaiser Permanente’s donations in 2015 and 2016 enabled HOCFM to distribute $80,000 in match dollars to stretch limited food budgets, which also helped to sustain small farmers during the worst drought in California’s history. Kaiser Permanente’s support of the Market Match program helped grow HOCFM’s EBT sales by 35 percent in only two years.
Due to the high needs of the community in which it operates, the market has accepted food stamps (now the EBT program) since it first opened in 1981. Since that time, the market’s EBT program has become the largest and most successful in California.
“Kaiser’s support has enabled us to hire an EBT Program Manager to staff the very busy market information tent and provide orientation to new and existing customers,” said Creps. “We had no idea that the program would grow so quickly in three years, but the numbers are just off the charts.”
In addition to the EBT program, Kaiser Permanente’s donation directly supports the 53 small farmers who sell their products at the market. “We’ve seen farms go out of business in one week due to the drought and the economic stress it creates,” said Creps. “We strive to keep our participation costs minimal so the farmers can sell at a low price point and every donated dollar we receive offsets the stall fees we ask farmers to pay.”
Looking forward, Kaiser Permanente will continue to support the HOCFM with additional donations that could include healthy cooking demos both at the market and in Tenderloin SROs, whose residents often need to learn how to prepare the fresh produce they purchase at the market.
“There are so many positive ways the market impacts the neighborhood,” said Wittorp. “We look forward to leveraging our success and continuing our partnership with Kate and her staff in new and creative ways.”
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
By Melody Gutierrez
SACRAMENTO — California hopes to expand a nutrition program for the poor that puts more Brussels sprouts, chard and other vegetables and fruits on the tables of food-stamp recipients by awarding them with extra dollars when they buy fresh produce.
The state set aside $5 million in the current budget to tap into a federal matching program that rewards the poor with extra money for fruits and vegetables. In turn, the program helps farmers increase their profits.
“There are people who don’t have access to fresh foods,” said Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, who authored a bill last year to set up a state program to solicit the federal matching funds. “This is just one way to leverage their dollars and buying power. Processed foods are often cheaper, but this is a way to make their dollars go further so they don’t have to make those tough choices.”
The California Department of Agriculture is applying to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the matching federal dollars. The state expects to hear in March or April whether it will receive the federal matching grant.
Several California nonprofits obtain their own federal and private grants to offer the program through certified farmers’ markets. In the Bay Area, the Berkeley-based nonprofit Ecology Center collects donations and grants and has received matching federal grants to run its program. This year, the Ecology Center’s incentives program, which they call Market Match, is part of the state’s application for federal matching money.
The Market Match program works like this: People on public assistance can go to participating farmers’ markets, where they tell market staff how much they would like to use at the market from their electronic food stamps card. Customers are then given $1 tokens for that amount along with up to $10 in additional Market Match tokens that can be used to buy fruits and vegetables.
Ajua, a Berkeley resident who declined to give her last name, said the program has allowed her to put far more fruits and vegetables on the table she shares with her 13-year-old son. On Tuesday, she picked up persimmons, clementines, collard greens, lettuce and leeks. Ajua goes to three farmers’ markets in Berkeley every week, where she is able to receive up to $10 at each for every $10 she uses on her EBT card. That’s $120 a month in matching money, a substantial amount, she said, considering food stamps provide $350 a month.
Carle Brinkman, the Market Match program manager at the Ecology Center, said the program allows low-income people to afford healthy foods that typically cost more. Ecology Center works with farmers’ markets and organizations statewide to administer the Market Match program.
“This time of year, we hear stories about customers saving their benefits to use them at the market in order to prepare a nice meal during Thanksgiving or Christmas,” Brinkman said. “Market Match is really doing double duty by supporting low-income families and allowing them to make healthy food choices and supporting small and mid-sized farmers that sell at these markets.”
The food-stamp match program began in 2007 and is operating in dozens of states. In California, there are 220 farmers’ markets that offer Market Match and 40 additional sites like farm stands and mobile farmers’ markets that offer the program.
Brinkman said the program is growing and that she hopes to reach more rural communities in the future. She said in the Bay Area, the program is helping many people bridge the gap between the high cost of housing and paying for basic needs like food.
“If people have a little more to spend on groceries, they can put the income they do have toward housing, child care and other expenses,” she said. “We always hear stories about how this makes such a difference for people.”
Kate Creps hears those stories, too. The executive director of the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market in the Tenderloin district began offering Market Match in June 2015. In its first year, they gave out $265,000 in matching incentive money to people using their food stamps at the market.
She said given the area’s dense population of poverty and the city’s high cost of living, there is more interest than there is money for the program. Creps said they only have enough grant money to match $5 of what people spend using their food stamps at each market.
“It’s impossible to try to live in the city right now,” she said. “There are so many people scared about the future and so many people trying to pay rent and get fresh food. That’s even harder in the Tenderloin because there is no full-service grocery store. We are hearing constantly that people couldn’t afford produce in the city without this program and we are seeing an unprecedented amount of people shopping with an EBT card.”
The Heart of the City Farmers’ Market is part of the Ecology Center’s California Market Match Program. Creps said Heart of the City’s Market Match grant allows it to double whatever private donations it receives, so that if someone donates $500, the farmers’ market can give out $1,000 in Market Match money. A $20,000 donation would allow the market to give its low-income shoppers $10 in matching money instead of $5 for a month, which would be a major gift this holiday season.
“We see the added Christmas rush,” she said. “People are buying for holiday gatherings. We are excited that they include so much produce in their meals.”
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.
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 email@example.com.
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.
(SAN FRANCISCO, CA) – Flanked by supporters at a bustling farmers’ market, Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) called on Governor Jerry Brown to sign legislation helping California obtain millions in federal funds to provide incentives for low-income Californians receiving food stamps to shop at farmers’ markets.
Ting’s AB 1321 passed the Assembly 60-18 and the Senate 30-8. It awaits Brown’s signature or veto by October 11.
The call for Brown to sign AB 1321 came on the eve of a federal government shutdown. If Congress fails to pass a budget to fund the federal government starting October 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has indicated it will not have the resources needed to administer the food stamp program.
“We must improve access to nutritious food. The healthiest choice should be the easiest choice,” said Ting. “Diet is the foundation for health. By harnessing the power of farmers’ markets, we can fight malnutrition and expand access to our state’s bounty. Heart of the City shows us what we can achieve to help families in need. We need Governor Brown to sign this bill. We need Congress to avoid a federal government shutdown so families don’t go hungry.”
Ting’s bill was inspired by the Market Match program. Now administered by the Berkeley-based Ecology Center, Market Match operates at over 150 farmers’ markets across California. It “matches” or doubles the purchasing power of families receiving food stamps – aka the CalFresh Program or Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) - shopping at farmers’ markets. This incentive has increased food stamp purchases at farmers’ markets up to 700 percent.
“We help thousands of low-income customers afford more fruits and vegetables at the heart of the most expensive city in the nation,” said Kate Creps, Executive Director of San Francisco’s Heart of the City Farmers’ Market, which makes the most food stamp transactions of any farmers’ market in the state. “EBT sales have increased by a third after offering Market Match starting in June. This is a welcome source of additional revenue for small farmers struggling to survive the worst drought in California’s history.”
In order to expand Market Match, AB 1321 directs the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture to obtain federal funding to provide incentives for food stamp recipients to consume more fresh produce by shopping at farmers’ markets. The federal farm bill of 2014 set aside $100 million for this purpose through the Food insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program.
Other states have taken a leadership role in obtaining these funds for their residents. Their success shows the need for California to do the same, as directed through Ting’s bill. In April, the federal government announced the first found of FINI grants. Many of the largest grants went to states like Washington and Massachusetts, which coordinated state efforts targeting these funds.
“We should be getting more of these funds,” added Ting. “California is positioned to benefit from this program more than any other state because of our network of farmers markets and poverty challenges.”
"With AB 1321, the Legislature and the Governor will create a pathway for all California's farmer markets to offer Market Match nutrition incentives and will have set the stage for every small grocery store to eventually do the same,” said Michael Dimock, President of Roots of Change. “This bill improves the lives of our state’s hungriest families and most hard working farmers. We encourage Governor Brown to sign the bill and brighten California’s future."
“The Latino Coalition for a Healthy California applauds Assemblyman Ting on his forward looking legislation that will help vulnerable populations in California to meet their nutritional needs,” said Xavier Morales, Executive Director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. “AB 1321--Market Match--will be a valuable tool to both increase access to healthy food options for CalFresh recipients, as well as support our farmers’ markets, and our small scale farmers. AB 1321 will be a Win-Win-Win for California!”
With over 400 commodities in production, California has unparalleled agricultural diversity. It also has over 700 farmers’ markets - the largest network of any state. Over 11 million Californians live in poverty and 4 million struggle with food insecurity - or inadequate access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food.
Here is what other supporters are saying about AB 1321:
“While California is now the world’s 7th largest economy, we still have the highest poverty rate nationally. Limited resources for purchasing food has a dramatic impact on health and increases the risk of developing preventable chronic diseases, like diabetes, with disproportionate impacts on communities of color in California.”
-Martin Bourque, Executive Director, Ecology Center
“We believe that California and the nation will be more healthy and resilient if we enhance food system infrastructures that make healthy food accessible and affordable. This bill contributes to the physical health of individuals, the economic health of small farms and rural communities. It is a win-win solution that cannot be missed.”
-Matthew Marsom, Vice President for Public Policy and Programs, Public Health Institute
“A 2013 evaluation of Market Match reported an average six-fold return, and serves a local economic development strategy for farming communities up and down the state. Participating growers have cited additional income from incentives as the reason for adding staff or acreage.”
-Ben Feldman, Chair, California Alliance of Farmers’ Markets
“Economic support for organic farmers is critical during these times of extreme drought and climate change because they conserve water, improve soil quality, sequester carbon, increase biodiversity, create pollinator habitats, and build drought resilience. Thus, we support AB 1321 because it offers economic support for organic farmers who work to improve California’s environmental health.”
-Kelly Damewood, Policy Director, California Certified Organic Farmers
“Ensuring that individuals and families have ready access to essential resources, such as nutritious food, helps households lead healthy, productive lives- and keep struggling Californians from falling further into poverty.”
-Alexis Fernandez, Director of Legislation, California Food Policy Advocates
Read more at a19.asmdc.org.
The incentive was clear: $30 worth of free food from a San Francisco farmers’ market in exchange for taking a healthy-eating course that could save their lives.
Bishop Swing Community Housing resident Jovita Zamora smiles as she show's off the produce she was able to buy with $5 at Heart of the City Farmers Market in San Francisco on Wednesday, August 19, 2015. Samuel Merritt University's School of Nursing students Amy Stevenson and Jennifer Lee created a free five-week healthy eating course for SRO residents that culminates in a field trip to the farmers market in U.N. Plaza, where they give the residents $5 to buy as much food as they can and then show them how to cook it.
Read more here.
A recent $3.7 million grant from the USDA is helping Market Match, an innovative program that began in the East Bay, expand to more than 230 sites statewide.
It makes local and organic produce more accessible to those who use the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is CalFresh in California.
Market Match, led by the Berkeley-based Ecology Center, doubles benefits up to $10 at farmers markets statewide. It was started by Oakland-based Roots of Change in 2009 and administered through the Specialty Crop Block Grant program until March.
Since Market Match started, it has grown to more than 150 markets serving about 50,000 shoppers.
The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant to the Ecology Center is aimed at serving 240,000 food-insecure shoppers by connecting them to small farmers.
"The additional funding allows us to participate with smaller markets, more regional and rural markets," says Martin Bourque, executive director at the Ecology Center. "It also allows us to work with CSAs, farmstands and the emerging mobile markets."
Phat Beets is a North Oakland food justice collective that introduced Market Match three years ago. It supports farmers of color with a variety of programs, including community supported agriculture (CSA) boxes that it distributes around the East Bay and at farmers markets.
"If you're taking and making the farmers market a little more equitable and welcoming to folks, you're increasing the traffic, the access, and you're getting more sales for your farmers." says development director Max Cadji.
The boost in funds also allows markets that couldn't previously afford the program to participate, such as San Francisco's Heart of the City market.
On a Wednesday afternoon at Heart of the City in United Nations Plaza, shoppers on public assistance line up to swipe their CalFresh electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards, which gives them money in the form of plastic tokens to buy fruits and vegetables.
Heart of the City has the largest EBT program in California, with over $250,000 in transactions every year. The farmer-operated market has two market days a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays. In order to match all of the expected EBT transactions in the next two years, the market matches only up to $7, compared with $10 at most markets.
For many shoppers, it's their first time using Market Match. The cashiers at the information tent explain the program, as shoppers swipe their cards.
"Do you know about our Market Match program?" the cashier asks market shopper Ronald Becker.
"What’s that?" he replies.
"Market Match," the cashier says. "It’s our new program where we can match your EBT purchase up to $7 per market day. So since you spent $20, we’ll give you an extra $7."
Becker looks at his handful of tokens. He walked to the market from his home near the Civic Center. As a veteran, Becker receives CalFresh as part of his pension plan. He likes to buy fish, mushrooms and herbs.
"I like to make West African cooking," he says. "I like groundnut chops, different stews. Now I’m into a fish kick, so I’m making a lot of fish -- a lot of seafood."
At Heart of the City, market director Kate Creps oversees the conversion of cash into tokens, and back into cash for farmers.
"Market Match is blue over here," she says, as she sorts a bag full of yellow, blue and green (for debit and credit) tokens. "That's our newest token. We’ve only had it since the beginning of June."
Since launching Market Match, Creps says, Heart of the City has distributed $4,000 in tokens. That's $4,000 worth of food that people couldn't otherwise afford. Consequently, all that extra buying power helps farmers sell more of what they grow, too.
Farmer Grace Teresi grows berries, herbs, and other foods at Miramonte Farms and Nursery in San Juan Bautista. Business has been rough, she says. So those Market Match tokens are always a welcome sight,
"So yes, it’s been a great help," Teresi says. "My sales that would have been down like 20 percent have been down not as bad. It’s been down maybe 10 percent."
Demand for Market Match is so strong that the Ecology Center wants to expand, but funds are limited. The new grant, which was awarded in April, will allow the program to reach 234 sites in the next two years -- but more markets want to join today.
That's why the Ecology Center is sponsoring AB1321, a bill that provides the legal framework for the state to administer nutrition incentive programs like Market Match, to the extent that funds are available.
If the bill passes, the extra money from the state would increase the chance of a second round of funding from the federal government.
$280,000 RAISED TO FEED FAMILIES IN
THE MOST EXPENSIVE CITY IN THE NATION
& SUPPORT FARMERS IN A DROUGHT
MARKET MATCH LAUNCH EVENT
With Supervisor Jane Kim
Wednesday, June 3 11am
Heart of the City Farmers Market has raised $280,000 to match customers’ EBT purchases with extra dollars to spend on fruits and vegetables, stretching limited food budgets in a city with the highest cost of living in the nation. Supervisor Jane Kim will join us to launch Heart of the City Farmers Market’s new Market Match program at 11am on June 3 by processing the first EBT purchase in the Tenderloin to be matched with funds she helped to raise.
Starting June 3, every purchase made at Heart of the City Farmers Market with an EBT card will be matched up to $7 to encourage CalFresh recipients to buy nutritious produce with their benefits and support small farmers during the worst drought in California’s history. When a customer spends up to $7 of their benefits at Heart of the City Farmers Market, they will be given up to $7 in extra market tokens to spend on fruits and vegetables as part of Ecology Center’s California Market Match Program.
"EBT customers can double their money every market day for the next two years," said Kate Creps, Executive Director of Heart of the City Farmers Market. "This will have a tremendous impact on food security in San Francisco’s poorest neighborhood."
Heart of the City Farmers Market is located in the Tenderloin, an extremely low-income neighborhood in San Francisco’s city center which lacks a supermarket and is dominated by liquor stores. San Francisco Food Security Task Force’s Assessment of Food Security in San Francisco 2013 reported that over 45% of the residents in District 6 (32,846 people) are at risk for food insecurity based on income.
Due to the need in this community, Heart of the City Farmers Market has the largest farmers market EBT program in California with over $250,000 in annual EBT sales.
“We see a critical need to promote strategies to afford and access healthy food in a community struggling to live at the center of the nation’s most expensive city,” said Kate. “Two thirds of all EBT benefits spent at San Francisco’s 25 farmers markets are spent here due to our unique focus on accessibility for people of all income levels.”
Heart of the City Farmers Market is San Francisco’s only independent, farmer operated, nonprofit farmers market and has accepted federal food assistance benefits as payment for produce since 1981. Customers visit the market information tent to swipe their EBT card and purchase tokens to shop at farm stands. Now, Market Match will double the impact of those CalFresh benefits.
The market also accepts WIC, Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, EatSF, and VeggieRX vouchers to help make healthy food affordable for San Francisco’s most vulnerable residents and donates over 1,000 pounds of produce each week for free distribution in the Tenderloin.
$280,000 Raised for EBT Customers to Purchase Produce from Farmers
The USDA’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program, or FINI, was authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill to award $31.5 million to support programs that help increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables by participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (called CalFresh in California). FINI funds are awarded as a match to double funds already committed to the program. For more on the FINI awards, click here: USDA News Release
Five community partners pledged support for Heart of the City Farmers Market’s new Market Match program to bring FINI matching funds to the Tenderloin. A total of $280,000 in Market Match incentives will be distributed to Heart of the City Farmers Market’s EBT customers from June 2015 to April 2017.
Heart of the City Farmers Market pledged financial support to launch and administer the new incentive program, which was matched by USDA’s FINI program to generate $165,250 to give to customers as Market Match incentives.
On behalf of the Board of Supervisors, Supervisor Jane Kim pledged to continue to waive the United Nation Plaza’s site use fee for Heart of the City Farmers Market to support the Market Match program, which generated a $63,750 match to provide to this community. She will process the first Market Match transaction to distribute the funds that she helped to generate.
“Supervisor Kim’s support has resulted in an extra $63,750 to give directly to residents in her district to buy fruits and vegetables from farmers,” said Kate Creps, Executive Director of Heart of the City Farmers Market. “I can’t think of a better way to fight food insecurity, promote health, and support local farming here in our community.”
Three generous community partners helped raise an additional $51,000 to give away as Market Match incentives:
Kaiser Permanente donated $20,000 to provide incentives for Heart of the City Farmers Market’s EBT customers, which was matched to make $40,000 available for our community.
Bi-Rite Market donated $6,000 to provide incentives for Heart of the City Farmers Market’s EBT customers, which was matched to make $12,000 available.
PES Environmental, Inc., a Bay Area-based environmental engineering firm, donated $2,500 to provide incentives, which was matched to make $5,000 available.
The Feeling Good Project of the SF Department of Public Health, funded by the USDA SNAP-Ed Program, is giving a free cookbook to every EBT customer who shops on June 3 to commemorate the Market Match launch.
Heart of the City Farmers Market Joins Ecology Center’s Statewide California Market Match Program
The Ecology Center in Berkeley, California, has been awarded a FINI grant of $3.7 million over two years, the 4th largest multi-year large-scale project in the country and 10% of all FINI funds. The grant will help to expand Market Match, California’s healthy food incentive program, to additional farmers’ markets and other outlets across the state. Through the grant, the statewide farm-to-fork incentive program expects to connect nearly 240,000 food-insecure shoppers with 2,200 of the state’s small farms, stimulating $9.8 million in fruit and vegetable sales.
“We’re thrilled with this vote of confidence from the USDA to expand a healthy foods program that’s steadily grown over the past five years, improving people’s food choices and increasing farmers’ sales,” said Martin Bourque, Executive Director of the 45-year-old Ecology Center.
Since the Ecology Center assumed the program in 2013, California Market Match has grown from 11 partners at 130 farmers’ markets to 30 partners at 234 outlets, including mobile markets, farm stands, Community Supported Agriculture outlets, and certified farmers’ markets from across the state. Heart of the City Farmers Market has joined as a new partner for 2015 to distribute $280,000 in incentives in two years.
Market Match is also helping local farmers. In a 2013 Market Match survey, 80% of farmers reported that they sold more fruits and vegetables, 69% had new customers and 66% made more money as a result of the Market Match program. 18% of farmers even reported that they were planting new acreage as a result of the program.
Heart of the City Farmers Market is San Francisco’s only independent, farmer operated, nonprofit farmers market located at the United Nations Plaza on Wednesdays and Sundays from 7-5pm. The market was created in 1981 to support and sustain California's small-scale growers, help make produce accessible for San Francisco's low-income Tenderloin neighborhood, and lead nutrition education outreach to create a healthy Heart of the City. For more information visit www.hotcfarmersmarket.org.
California Market Match was founded in 2009 by a nonprofit program of the Public Health Institute, Roots of Change (ROC). The Ecology Center and ROC continue to partner in order to further state-based programs and practices, including nutrition incentives, that work to ensure the health and resilience of all California communities. To learn more about the Ecology Center’s Market Match program, visit www.marketmatch.org and for more about the Ecology Center, visit www.ecologycenter.org.
Click here for a list of the Ecology Center’s California Market Match partners.
By Peter Lawrence Kane
Name: Poli Yerena
Farm location: Watsonville
What time he woke up this morning: 3:15
Six days a week, Apolinar (“Poli”) Yerena and his wife drive from their 22-acre, certified organic farm in Watsonville, making deliveries on their way to their stand at the Ferry Building Farmers Market or Heart of the City, in Civic Center. Today, they arrived at 8 a.m., after making four or five deliveries en route. The drive home is much tougher, though.
“We go back, it takes three hours because of the traffic. We’re done at 11 p.m., every day,” Yerena told SF Weekly.
[jump] Mondays are their day “off,” given over to getting materials for the farm, and doing paperwork. Cultivating strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, squash and other crops, their growing season is very long, running from early March through November.
“And then we have to start planting again for the next season,” Yerena said. “When you see everything on the table, it’s a lot of effort going on.”
Born in the central Mexican state of Jalisco, Yerena has been a farmer since he was 18 years old. The area where he grew up, about 45 miles from Guadalajara, has seen a lot of American agribusiness move in, particularly Driscoll’s, spurring him to move to Monterey County.
As harvesting berries is back-breaking labor, even by the standards of farming, Yerena is experiencing a major labor shortage on his farm. On top of that, he and his wife have their hands full under the umbrella at UN Plaza. Beyond selling squash blossoms and mixed boxes of berries ($8 for three), they’re also babysitters.
“My daughter works from three to ten [p.m.] and she lives here in SF, so we take care of her babies. Her husband leaves at four, and he’ll pick them up,” he says, laughing in a grandfatherly way at the squirming toddlers near the van.
Just as our conversation wraps up, a well-dressed woman asks if the blackberries are sweet at this point in the season.
“Muy dulces,” Yerena smiles. “You’ll see.”
On Wednesday, March 5, 2015 the BEETS (Band of Environmentally Educated and Employable Teens) spent the afternoon in the Heart of the City Farmers Market in Civic Center San Francisco. This site is a frequent visit for our CommunityGrows youth. It is an opportunity to see the farmers who sell here and run the market, and who provide produce to an otherwise food desert. In fact, since the market started in 1981, Civic Center continues to lack a grocery store in the area.
The BEETS started out their tour by hearing Kate Creps, Executive Director of the Heart of the city farmers’ Market, talk about the low-income community they serve. She said that this past year the market gave out over $290,000 in SNAP/CalFresh EBT purchases (formerly known as Food Stamps) and became the top farmers’ market in California to do so.
Tony Mellow of Mellow’s Nursery and Farms, and one of the first farmers from 1981, joined the group to talk about the market’s commitment to providing high-quality and reasonably priced produce from local farms to the heart of San Francisco. He told us that the market is run by the farmers who sell here, with a Board of Directors consisting of five representative farmers elected to serve two year terms and two community members to help the market stay connected to the needs of the neighborhood.
The BEETS got some tokens to spend in the market. Their goal was to find food items that they could use to make a salad the following day. They were to ask the farmers about their produce, challenges, and location of their farms. The BEETS broke into teams and went in search of ingredients. Regrouping at the end, they shared some of their purchases: lettuce, mushrooms, radishes, carrots, oranges and onions. The next day they would make the salad and serve it with a homemade pizza.
Read more at Communitygrows.org.
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.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
By Lee Romney
Reporting from San Francisco —
Mercy Mena arrived at Heart of the City Farmers Market in the shadow of San Francisco’s City Hall on a crowded Wednesday.
Before she meandered the stalls for fresh herbs, broccoli and nuts, she stopped at the main tent. After a swipe of her electronic benefits card on a wireless machine, she was handed bright yellow tokens in exchange for her federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits — formerly known as food stamps.
Mena, the mother of a 4-year-old, lives in the nearby Tenderloin, where poverty rates are high, there are no supermarkets, and life expectancy is 20 years lower than in surrounding neighborhoods largely because of preventable diet-related disease.
A grower-run nonprofit since 1981, Heart of the City knows those statistics well: It has made the most successful push of any farmers market statewide to let local residents know their federal benefits are welcome, processing more than $230,000 in electronic benefits last year.
“Where we live there are so many corner stores with bad food, just bad,” said Mena, 25, who recently lost her cafe job. “This is just amazing to have.”
Other California farmers markets have also begun to reach more consumers who receive nutritional benefits, thanks in part to a subsidy from private and public sources that stretches their buying power.
The Market Match program has been modest — and Heart of the City has simply been too successful to qualify. (It would burn through the available incentive in one market day.)
But now, thanks to $100 million set aside in the 2014 federal Farm Bill for precisely such incentives over the next five years, the program is poised to expand.
Heart of the City Executive Director Kate Creps estimates that access to the incentives could help her market triple its already hefty electronic benefit sales, reaching more at-risk customers while supporting small growers.
An outside evaluation of Market Match and three similar incentive programs in other states — which collectively serve 518 farmers markets — showed that consumers in “food deserts” were buying fresh fruits and vegetables with their benefits.
The research helped persuade federal lawmakers to act, said Martin Bourque, executive director of the Berkeley-based Ecology Center, which manages Market Match.
The catch: the Farm Bill dollars must be matched by state or private funding, and many market organizations lack the time and capacity to pool those resources.
A bill sponsored by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) would have brought the Market Match program under the control of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. The agency ultimately would have provided the matching funds, applied for the federal dollars on behalf of California’s farmers markets, and ensured that even those operating on a shoestring had technical support.
The appropriations committee last month placed the bill in “suspense” because of cost concerns after unanimous passage in the agriculture committee. Ting plans to reintroduce it.
“The beauty of this thing is that it works,” said Michael Dimock, president of Oakland-based Roots of Change, which in 2009 created Market Match and recently handed the management reins to Bourque’s group. “We’re going to go back. We have support on the Democratic side and on the Republican side, and I think it’s just a matter of timing.”
California has already seen a huge uptick in the purchasing power of benefit recipients at farmers markets, with or without the match.
Mena, who receives $230 per month, greeted a nut farmer by name in Spanish before getting an informal lesson from a sprout grower on his offerings — along with some tastings. The bounty at Heart of the City, she said, is “a blessing, really.”
Farmers market vendors once liberally accepted federal nutritional benefits — when they were paper documents. But when the federal government in 2003 switched over to the electronic benefit, or EBT, swipe card, the markets were caught off guard.
“They don’t have hard-wired phones and power, which you needed for swipe devices,” Bourque said.
The Ecology Center helped devise a wireless, battery-powered point-of-sale swipe card device that satisfied the security concerns of federal officials, and launched a campaign to get them into markets.
According to the California Department of Social Services, which has provided free EBT machines to markets, the number accepting electronic benefits grew from 50 in 2008 to 428 as of last month.
Market Match, generally capped at $10 a week per shopper, served 38,000 families last year who, using just $237,000 in incentives, spent more than $1.5 million at 150 California markets, according to Roots of Change.
Last month, the early-childhood support organization First 5 LA funded the largest expansion of Market Match to date, with a $2.5-million grant to the Ecology Center that will help 37 Los Angeles-area farmers markets.
James Haydu, executive director of Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles, which operates eight markets set to benefit from the grant, said Market Match has driven “overwhelming” customer growth at its Watts and Central Avenue locations. “We’re gleaning new customers weekly.”
Kate Creps, executive director for the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market in Civic Center, can track the effect of the drought on her market by the empty spaces in the line of stalls. Pheng Keng is missing. No one has seen Gloria Avila, who’s been a regular since the 1980s, in months.
It could be worse: Only five or six stalls out of 55–almost exclusively small family farmers, who govern the independent market as well as display their wares at it–are absent so far, she estimates, including a few Vietnamese American and Hmong farmers from the Central Valley. The usual Wednesday-afternoon crowd, a mix of Tenderloin residents and office workers, doesn’t appear any smaller than usual.
But the mood among the farmers is wary, to say the least. Tony Cozzolino, the youngest (at 29) and newest (at several months) farmer at the Heart of the City market, slips off the plastic glove he’s been using to measure out fresh alfalfa and broccoli sprouts to shake hands. He smiles easily–Hollywood whites–but worry flickers at smile’s edge as he talks.
Tony and his wife, Stephanie, who farm in Half Moon Bay, just started selling sprouts this year to bolster the income from their two primary crops: pumpkins and Christmas trees. “We’ve already started planting stuff together more tightly to conserve water,” he says, though the strategy means disease can spread among the plants more quickly. “You can normally water for two hours twice a day, but now we’re only watering for one and a half hours once a day.”
Even that is fragile: There’s no excess water to plant a garden for personal use, and the Cozzolinos even have to think carefully about how they wash the sprouts. All of the farm’s water, after all, comes from a creek. And it’s quickly drying up. If that happens, he says, “That’s it.” He’s not sure how much to plant, and is praying for June rains.
Another empty space belongs to El Hullana of Hullana Farms, who’s been at the Civic Center market since it started in 1981. Hullana’s family has farmed in Merced since 1946, and Hullana stopped selling to wholesalers several decades ago. Instead, his melons, peppers, napa cabbage, broccoli and tomatoes go directly to farmers’ market shoppers, Chinatown produce markets and Korean American kimchi makers.
Hullana hasn’t been coming to the market because he has only been able to plant one crop this spring and summer instead of double-cropping. Not only that, he’s only planting half of his 60 acres — and currently waiting for someone to replace the pump and pipes in his well so it can reach the groundwater, whose surface is far deeper than in years past. “I’m pretty nervous right now,” he says.
Yet Hullana, who speaks on the phone after descending from his tractor to sit under a tree on the edge of his fields, doesn’t sound like nerves are paralyzing him. The drought — and his absence from the San Francisco farmers’ markets — is forcing him to do something he’s been meaning to do for years: install drip irrigation lines to deliver water directly to his plants, and not the surrounding soil and weeds.
“It will save a lot of money and a lot of labor,” he says. “It’s going to work. It has to work. I want to adapt. I don’t want to be in this situation again.”
Read more at insidescoopsf.sfgate.com.
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.