How an earthquake and a farmers market brought the San Francisco community together.

In 1989, a large earthquake destroyed part of a San Francisco freeway that ran by the ocean.

The local community, however, managed to find a silver lining in the rubble — all thanks to a seemingly unassuming development: a farmers market.

Just a few years after the quake, they took what had once been a roadway in front of the historic Ferry Building and turned it into the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

Today, it’s one of the top farmers markets in the country.

Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. All photos via CUESA, used with permission.

Aside from that, what makes the market particularly special is the organization that backs it — the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture. They’re all about cultivating a sustainable food system through community-based events, such as farmers markets and educational events.

And these local efforts are addressing a major, lesser-known challenge: food accessibility, particularly for those living in food deserts.

A boy grating a lemon at the farmers market.

Farmers markets like the one at Ferry Plaza bolster communities by bringing together those who actually make and grow food and the people who buy it. That, in turn, helps us learn more about where our food comes from and what it takes to keep it coming.  

These markets also offer Market Match, which helps make fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable for low-income families by doubling their food stamp benefits at the farmers market. This may act as extra incentive for families living in food deserts to make the trip for healthier, locally sourced food.

But for CUESA, saving the planet starts with educating the next generation about sustainability.

A kid in the Foodwise Kids Program.

“Education is at the heart of our work,” writes communications director Brie Mazurek in an email. “We aim to inspire and empower people of all ages to become informed eaters and co-creators in a healthy food system.”

They offer market-to-table demonstrations at their markets as well as farm tours where people can learn from the growers themselves and discover cool new recipes.

And if you’re a kid, you can get even more involved with two awesome programs.

Students in the Schoolyard to Market program.

Foodwise Kids is a free experience for elementary students where they go on a field trip to a farmers market. They get to meet farmers, taste local foods, and prepare a meal together, picking up basic kitchen skills along the way.

Meanwhile, high schoolers have Schoolyard to Market — a semester-long garden and youth entrepreneurship program. They start a garden at their school, learning about the importance of sustainability and nutrition and how to run a successful food business. At the end of the semester, they actually sell their garden produce at a farmers market.

Kids leave the program with a much better understanding of how food systems work, and growing their own produce reminds them that fruits and vegetables can actually be delicious.

Sellers at one of CUESA’s food markets.

CUESA’s certainly done their part for sustainable food systems over the last 25 years. Now it’s time for every one of us to step up.

Some grocery retailers are already ahead of the curve. The Kroger Family of Companies, for example, makes it a priority to source locally, reducing their carbon footprint. They’re also working on reducing waste with the Food Waste Reduction Alliance and helping improve the food supply chain, which has an overwhelmingly positive impact on the economy and environment.

And there are many ways that you can support the growth of this vital food movement, even if you don’t own a grocery store or like digging in the dirt.

You can support local farmers and growers by doing your research and knowing where your food is coming from. Or you can go political and put pressure on your policymakers to support programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

SNAP brings nutrition assistance to millions of low-income individuals and families. It also provides economic benefits to communities and works with educators and state agencies to make sure people are aware of the food benefits available to them.  

Volunteers at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

If communities everywhere start supporting the sustainable food movement, our world’s food future will look much brighter.

The next time you’re planning a big dinner — or just a Tuesday night family dinner, for that matter — take a moment to consider where you’re getting your food. Deciding to choose a place that supplies products from local farmers may not sound that heroic, but over time, it absolutely makes a difference.

Whether it’s farmers markets or sustainability-conscious grocers that get your business, you’ll be putting money toward better food for future generations and a better life for food producers today.

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