Those of us who work in the Midtown/Downtown area are spoiled by the availability of fresh produce at our local farmers’ markets. I complain all winter when I can’t just walk across the street from the Capitol Weekly offices to Cesar Chavez Park every Wednesday and buy all of that week’s vegetables. Never mind that I can just go to the far bigger farmer’s market on Broadway every Sunday morning.
But imagine that you live in a neighborhood without a farmers market, and maybe don’t have a car. That’s the idea behind the growing movement of small urban farm stands.
“It’s a new model, something that communities can create themselves to improve access within walking distance in their neighborhood,” said Davida Douglas, Urban Farm Stand coordinator.
Entering their third summer in operation, Urban Farm Stand will operate two stands from May through October in neighborhoods that haven’t traditionally had access to fresh, locally-grown produce. The Alkali Flat stand will be open in Neely Johnson Park every Tuesday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Every Saturday starting May 9, they’ll have another stand in McClatchy Park, in the Oak Park neighborhood, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Urban Farm Stand is a project of Alchemist, a Sacramento community development corporation started in 2004. Alchemist had conducted a series of events in disadvantaged neighborhoods, ranging from movie nights to community brainstorming session. The Alkali Flat farm stand grew out of a meeting with Alkali Flat residents in 2006.
“We worked with them to get a list of their priorities, and that was really high on their list because the Albertsons down the street was closing and they didn’t know where they would get fresh produce,” said Lisa Nelson, president of Alchemist.
Urban Farm Stand works closely with Soil Born Farms. This is an educational project that operates two urban farms in the Sacramento area: the 25 acre American River Ranch Farm in Rancho Cordova, and a one-and-half acre organic farm off of Hurley Way. They also operate a farm stand out of their Rancho Cordova location (2140 Chase Drive, 363-9687) every Saturday from May through October from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Soil Born, in turn, is working with the Sacramento non-profit Health Education Council, which got a three year grant from the First 5 Sacramento Commission to run a program called In the Grow. It seeks to address childhood obesity with programs in schools and events teaching low-income parents how to cook healthier foods.
Now in its second year, In the Grow is also running seven farm stands in low income neighborhoods, from mid-April until the end of October. In addition to the three it offered last year—in Freedom Park, Mather, and Las Palmas Avenue—they opened four new ones last week: on Franklin Boulevard, Elder Creek Drive, Matson Drive and Rancho Cordova. The stands take EBT cards offered via the state food stamps program. A full list of locations can be found at http://healthedcouncil.org/docs/Farmstands_2009.pdf .
“We’d love to extend the program, at least keep some of the farm stands open after the grant ends,” said program administrator Julie Dang. “We haven’t reached the point where they’re self supporting yet.”
By creating a networked group of farm stands, Douglas said they can place orders together to offer a wider selection of produce while keeping prices down. Other goals include buying locally and offering organics at nearly the same price as conventionally-grown produce.
“We see the value in organics,” Douglas said. “We do also understand the financial situation people are in when we’re working in low income communities. They’re feeding their families on a tight budget.”
Nelson said that she’s heard from groups in other cities and states about copying the Urban Farm Stand model. There are a number of potential problems, she said, including “good faith” health and safety codes that can make it hard to open farm stands. She also said that zoning ordinances prevented them from opening stands in unincorporated areas of Sacramento County—even though some of these areas near North Highlands and South Sacramento would be great locations she said.
Local laws, she said, are written with large stores in mind—not community non-profits.
“State, county and city all get in the way of doing this locally and cheaply,” Nelson said.