Heart of the City Farmers Market expands to Fridays, adds craft bazaar

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.

Cherries for sale at the market on Friday, June 7. |  PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE CIVIC CENTER COMMUNITY BENEFIT DISTRICT

Cherries for sale at the market on Friday, June 7. | PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE CIVIC CENTER COMMUNITY BENEFIT DISTRICT

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 arteco-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.

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

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.

Heart of the City Farmers’ Market and Kaiser Permanente: A Produce Partnership and so much more…

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.”

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.

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. 

Market Match Expands Into More Farmers Markets Statewide

By Adizah Eghan

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.

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.

Drought Hits the Civic Center Farmers’ Market

By Jonathan Kauffman

Drought Dispatch” is an ongoing Inside Scoop series about the effect of California’s extreme drought on the food we eat.

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.

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.