A Farmers’ Market in the Heart of the City

by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
August 21, 2012

Heart of the City Farmers’ Market in July 2012.  Photo by Sergio Ruiz.

For more than three decades, San Francisco's Heart of the City Farmers’ Market has been operating at UN Plaza, along Market Street and within sight of City Hall. The market is unique not only for its central location but also for its dedication to offering fresh produce to low-income customers living in the nearby Tenderloin neighborhood while also supporting the livelihood of California farmers. 

Since its start in 1981 as a joint project of the American Friends Service Committee and Market Street Association, Heart of the City Farmers’ Market has been governed by its farmer-vendors. As a result, the farmers have worked to keep stall fees – what they pay for space at the market – low. Currently the fees are $30 per day, per 10 foot by 10 foot stall, which may be the lowest rate in the city. The low stall fees are a prime reason this farmers' market is known not only for its variety but also for its affordability.

The market is also known for its size. With more than 50 farm stands and nearly 20 prepared-food vendors selling fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, eggs, bread, tamales, rotisserie chicken and more, the market is bigger than most other markets in the city except the Ferry Building and Alemany Markets. According to Kate Creps, Heart of the City market manager, most of the farmers travel 1.5 to 3 hours to reach the market, though some travel further, including Dates by Davall, who drives more than 8 hours one way to bring his produce from the Coachella Valley, east of Los Angeles.

The market also distinguishes itself by its commitment to support the use of food stamps at farmers’ markets. More than 75 percent of all CalFresh electronic benefits used at farmers’ markets in San Francisco are redeemed at Heart of the City.

The organization just reached a new milestone this month with the addition of a Friday market, complementing its existing Wednesday and Sunday gatherings.  While it’s still to be seen whether demand is sufficient to sustain the Friday market, it's an exciting development in a neighborhood with no full-service grocery store. Starting a new farmers’ market is difficult in general, but that’s especially true in low-income areas, with the close of the Bayview farmers’ market providing an example.

Describing the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market, though, doesn’t do it justice. So stop reading and mark your calendar for a Wednesday, Friday or Sunday starting as early as 7 a.m.  Bring a shopping bag, appetite or both, and enjoy this special market yourself.