Farmers’ market more than just a market

Vanessa Walker

On any given Saturday from May 5 to Aug. 27, McClatchy Park’s calm breeze has the aroma of fresh cut flowers, ice cream, tamales and sautéed eggplant for the Oak Park Farmers’ Market.

In addition to enjoying the delicious food and flower bouquets, Oak Park residents buy fresh and organic produce there too.

The market serves as a beacon for community development because of the many activities that take place there in addition produce selling. Activities such as free yoga, free massages, kids’ crafts, face painting and live music help foster a stronger relationship between community members.

However, Oak Park has a reputation for being “a dangerous place, with high crime, drugs and shootings,” Oak Park Farmers’ Market manager Joany Titherington said. Many Sacramento residents may not want to attend because of that.

“It’s a stigma that goes back a decade or so,” Titherington said.

But many residents would agree the negativity that looms over the community is a stigma that shouldn’t define the neighborhood anymore. Oak Park is working to get rid of it.

The residents have been working together to galvanize each other to enact positive change by making essential resources accessible through the farmers’ market, such as health and nutrition education.

“Food has always been a way of bringing people together,” said Iyanna Fabio, an Oak Park resident.

For many years fast food and prepackaged foods were the most accessible in the area, Titherington said. The farmers’ market plays an important role in helping change that.

To help residents learn how to cook the organic foods they purchase, the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op performs live food demonstrations once a month.

“[Organic food] is not just food for the upper-middle class,” said

Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op co-owner Eileen Murray. “Everyone can be involved.”

Because consumers associate organic food with higher price tags, many people never try organic food. But real savings can be reaped when produce is purchased directly from the farmers and not from grocery stores.

The market accepts benefits the CalFresh program, formerly known as Food Stamps, and benefits from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, also known as WIC.

Eating healthy food should not be about how much money one has the ability to spend. Every family has the right to access fresh, healthy meals.

Because more families can access produce with these benefits, farmers are able to sell more of their product.

“I do pretty good on WIC,” said Maria Gonzalez, a farmworker at Golden Valley Farms. She drives from Fresno County to sell at the Oak Park Farmers’ Market.

“I love it, this is my favorite market. It’s friendly and keeps people coming back,” she said.

Residents exercise and relax together, enjoy music, hot meals and the youth can bond over shared activities all in the same place.

“It gives people an opportunity to break bread together, listen to music and catch up,” Titherington said. “That’s what sets us apart from other farmers’ markets. It’s one of many catalysts for change in Oak Park and we’re very fortunate.”

Though the market receives a lot of community support through many organizations including Kaiser, NeighborWorks Home Ownership Center and the California Department of Food and Agriculture, it does not have permanent, steady funding. The market is dependent on the neighborhood’s ability to work together and make the market happen every year.

Whether a community is looking to create a more friendly and inviting atmosphere, or is working to revive the collective spirit of an entire neighborhood, the farmers’ market is an exceptional place to start.

“I like Oak Park, I like the diversity,” said Oak Park resident Rodge Little. “It shows in the market.”

Oak Park’s Farmers’ Market helps make the neighborhood a more comfortable place to be. Residents get to know one another while they are out bonding with their own families and come together to make the event a reality. There’s nothing more delightful than seeing a familiar, friendly face.

McClatchy Park is a 10-minute drive from Sacramento State. With the market every Saturday morning in the summer and fall months, it’s a perfect alternative to the crowded farmers’ market downtown on Sundays.

When the market shuts its doors at the end of October, it will be completing its third successful year.

But even through the still winter months, the smell of sweet nectarines, sunflowers and the soft tones of acoustic instruments will linger until it returns again.