The Farmer Still Comes to Town

Historical Essay

by Jesse Drew

The original Farmer's Market is still alive and well in San Francisco. In 1944, the market relocated from Market and Duboce to city-owned land on Alemany and San Bruno. In 1945, after many attempts by large retailers to eliminate the Market, the voters of San Francisco voted 7-1 to set up a permanent farmers market owned and operated by the city. To this day, on a typical Saturday morning, over one hundred farmers voyage to the market to sell their home-grown produce to thousands of San Franciscans. The Farmers Market inspects county agricultural records to ensure that the sellers are actual farmers and are not simply re-selling produce bought elsewhere. This arrangement gives city people access to cheap, fresh produce and allows farmers to cut out the middleman. It also allows the farmers to sell produce that is rejected by the wholesalers as "irregular" or misshapen. Thus, food that would have gone to waste can be purchased by consumers at cheap prices.

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Photo: Chris Carlsson

A newer market was founded in the mid-eighties to serve the inner-city neighborhood of the Tenderloin. The Heart of the City Farmers Market was set up with the help of the American Friends Service Committee to provide cheap and fresh produce to an area generally lacking large produce markets (but no shortage of alcohol). The market sells vegetables, fruits, fish and other items to a largely South East Asian population. The Heart of the City market is especially beneficial for the many elderly people who live in the Tenderloin, and for people who rely on public transportation, as the city-owned market is somewhat difficult to get to.


Heart of the City Farmers' Market, Wednesdays and Sundays at U.N. Plaza in Civic Center

Photo: Chris Carlsson


Heart of the City Farmers' Market at U.N. Plaza, 1999

Both of these markets are constantly battling against the relentless encroachment of San Francisco's powerful real estate interests. The San Francisco Farmers Market, once located on the side of a barren and out-of-the-way hillside, now finds itself ringed by newly built condominiums. The Heart of the City Farmers Market is increasingly out of favor with downtown interests who feel that working-class Tenderloin residents crowding around fish and produce vendors is not consistent with their vision of gentrification.

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Ferry Building Farmers' Market, August 2008

Photo: Chris Carlsson

On the other hand, there is another Farmers Market in San Francisco that does have the blessing of downtown. At the Embarcadero Ferry Plaza there is a newer Farmer's Market run by the San Francisco Public Market Collaborative, a private organization mostly consisting of real estate, architectural, and restaurant interests. Their market is geared towards upscale patrons who find such small open markets to be charming accompaniments to nearby expensive hotels and restaurants. Their goal is to use the market as a "model" for a permanent, high-quality, "discriminating" market, one that would add to the ambiance of the area, and of course boost real-estate values as well.

--Jesse Drew

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Ferry Building Farmers' Market, August 2008

Photo: Chris Carlsson

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