A new breed of farmers' market in San Francisco's Mission District combines food, culture, youth, and entrepreneurship.
Chances are if you've been to Bartlett Street between 21st & 22nd Street in San Francisco's Mission District, you didn't stay long. It's a block taken up mostly by a parking lot, a few apartment buildings and a lot of graffiti. Though he wasn't blind to this spot full of "waste and illicit activities,"planner and neighborhood resident Jeremy Shaw saw the potential for something else entirely to take its place.
Shaw's inspiration had come from his involvement with San Francisco's Great Streets Project, which "catalyzes the return of our city's streets to their rightful place as the center of civic life." Bartlett Street, he thought didn't have to be place to avoid but rather one to gather in. His vision has now taken form as the Mission Community Market, and since July, this once-derelict block now hosts a music, food, and family-filled gathering every Thursday from 4-8pm.
This market was always destined to be about more than just food. It had to be because the Mission Community Market faced challenges not every farmers market does, ranging from the Mission's high unemployment rate to its elevated levels of adult diabetes and heart failure, to the neighborhood's dramatic socio-economic and cultural diversity. So the market began to form in concert with a complex yet essential network of community partners from local merchants, non-profits and public associations, all willing to support a common vision.
As you stroll, you'll find fresh produce from such farms as Blue House, Tomatero, Twin Girls, Hidden Star and Organic Pastures, and prepared foods from nearby food incubator, La Cocina. But while MCM sells food from these local growers and food entrepreneurs, it also goes further: it supports emerging local business to improve economic development in the neighborhood, offers community programs for youth and families, capoeira, live bands, and even after-school art and music programs in partnership with neighborhood schools. As Shaw explains, "We've aggressively sought to create a community platform in youth arts and culture."
Attracting an audience of folks well-versed in heirloom apples and foraged food dinners was fairly simple—bringing in a broader, more diverse customer, less so. With arduous outreach and community building efforts, MCM is, in the five months since its opening, well on its way to becoming a neighborhood institution.
"Yesterday encapsulates everything I love about the market," Shaw told me over coffee on a recent Friday morning, bearing a basket of papaya, jujubes, pickles, and persimmons. "There were people, smiles, the weather was good. People are strolling through, buying food. New people are coming and telling us how much they like it. A complete cross-section of people appreciate it—even seem to have been calling out for it."
Photos by: Matthew Roth and David Gartner