Celebrating 10 Years of Mission Community Market | CUESA

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July 31, 2020

Celebrating 10 Years of Mission Community Market

San Francisco’s Mission Community Market has meant many things over the years: a farmers market with access to fresh, healthy food, a bustling gathering place for familiesa showcase for emerging businesses and artists.

This year, the beloved market, also known as Mission Mercado, celebrates 10 years of bringing Mission neighbors together through local food, the arts, and community.

“I look at it as being catalyst project,” says Ilaria Salvadori, who planted the first seed of the farmers market a decade ago. “It’s a project that has value in itself, but there is a larger value for the community because it’s able to bring further change.”

The Perfect Place for a Farmers Market

In the late 2000s, Ilaria, a Mission District resident and urban designer working for the San Francisco Planning Department, was assigned to work on the Mission Streetscape Plan, with the goal of creating more public spaces for pedestrians. One day, she found herself walking on Bartlett, a small residential street between Mission and Valencia, and noticed that it would make a perfect place for a farmers market.

She brought the idea back the planning department but faced skepticism at first. “I was told, ‘This will never happen because the Mission is very political, and groups don’t talk to each other,’” she remembers. “So, my strategy was to go to talk to different groups. I just asked a simple question: ‘What would you think if we had a farmers market in the Mission?’ And people said ‘Yes, I would love that!’”

It was clear the community wanted a farmers market, so Ilaria convened a working group of neighborhood stakeholders to determine how to create market that would be unique and supportive of the businesses and community. Founding members included groups like La Cocina and nearby businesses like Escape from New York Pizza, Loló, The Make Out Room, Café Revolution, and Bi-Rite Market.

Our goal was a bit of a hybrid goal between commerce, food access, community building, and placemaking,” says Ilaria. “Since then, we tried consistently to be present for the community, always integrating ideas that could bring people together.”

From Block Party to Mercado

The project eventually received fiscal sponsorship from the San Francisco Parks Alliance. Jeremy Shaw, an urban planner and Mission resident, joined the early meetings as a member of the San Francisco Great Streets Program, and eventually signed on to become the first market manager.

Through partnerships with local groups like La Cocina, Mission Economic Development Agency, Community Alliance, and the Mission Small Business Association, the organizers began recruiting vendors. “We selected farmers, food vendors, and local entrepreneurs who were aligned with the mission of the market and who wanted to see it grow,” Jeremy says.

Kim Leonard of En Vie Naturals, who had recently graduated from the Women’s Initiative business program, was among that first cohort of entrepreneurs invited to participate in the market. “I remember being excited because I was just starting out and didn’t know how I would introduce my products to people in my area other than online, but also I loved the idea of a farmers market being in the Mission,” Kim recalls.

On June 19, 2010, Mission Community Market made its debut with a block party and fundraiser on Bartlett Street, with artists, performers, community mural painting, and yes, lots of good food. Community support for the market was strong, and on Thursday, July 22, 2010, the first Mission Community Market took place, hosting about a dozen vendors.

“We felt it was a vibrant neighborhood in need of a farmers market,” recalls farmer Phil Carter of Winters Fruit Tree. “Early on, the market was a struggle economically, but we felt it would be successful in time. It’s definitely different from other markets; the customer base is very diversified and the market has a neighborhood feel to it. The community support we have developed over the years has allowed our farm to be successful.”

Farmer Poli Yerena of Yerena Farms was recruited by Jeremy at the Heart of the City Farmers Market. Poli’s first market day, they sold just six flats of strawberries, but he knew something was there. “It’s always been more of a family-type market, with kids coming from the schools with their parents, and different musicians taking part in the celebrations,” says Poli, who also served on the market’s board of directors.

Helmed by Jeremy with a scrappy and passionate group of volunteers, the market grew slowly but steadily through social media and word of mouth. “I’m really grateful for the early group of farmers that gave us a shot, in addition to all the neighbors who supported us in taking a risk on this new idea, right in their front yard,” says Jeremy.

Thriving Through Transition

The market has survived and thrived many changes in the Mission over the last decade. In 2015, a four-alarm fire destroyed the historical Mission Market building on 22nd Street, a home to restaurants and food businesses.

But market remained a beacon, bringing joy and beauty to Bartlett Street not only through the Thursday market, but also through community murals and urban design projects. “The street looked really different at the beginning. Through the farmers market and street closure, we were able to advocate to get the street redone,” says Ilaria. “The street design was a response to the market, not the other way around.”

In April 2017, through a partnership between the Mission Community Market and the city, La Placita was unveiled on Bartlett, creating a new public space that would provide a permanent anchor for the market and serve as a gathering place for community events. The market also expanded onto 22nd Street, creating more visibility for residents passing through Mission and Valencia Streets.

While the market continued to grow, it was becoming increasingly difficult to sustain operationally. Anna Derivi-Castellanos, cofounder of Three Babes Bakeshop, was an early supporter of the market, and later joined the board of directors. “Being a mostly volunteer-run market for much of its existence, before CUESA took over, was extremely challenging,” she says. “We will be forever grateful to all the folx, paid or unpaid, who invested their hard work and resourcefulness into MCM, and the community that kept us going for this long.”

The board of directors approached CUESA to host the market, providing a natural fit, with shared values and many overlapping vendors. On April 5, 2018, CUESA took over the operations, working with the existing vendors and community partners, while introducing some new vendors and educational activities.  “I’ve been very grateful for CUESA being involved and think they’ve been able to respect the spirit of the market,” says Ilaria.

By Community and for Community

Many of the market’s original vendors still continue to the day, including Arata Farms, Blue House Farm, Coastside Farms and Specialties, En Vie Naturals, Hale’s Apple Farm, Happy Boy Farms, Twin Girls Farm, Urban Sprouts, Winters Fruit Tree, and Yerena Farms.

“This is been particularly successful project because it marries is the idea of food access to placemaking,” says Ilaria. “It’s not just a buzzword⁠—it’s a reality in the Mission. I always liked the idea that Bartlett is symbolically placed between Mission and Valencia, which represent the two identities of the of the neighborhood. I like to believe that the market was able to bring them a little bit together, in a dialogue that is often really difficult. At a time when gentrification was reaching peak effects, I like to think that the market brought some kind of moment of reconciliation and meeting each other.”

“One of the things I loved most was just seeing the same faces and neighbors every week, as well as all the connections between the farmers and producers, recalls Jeremy. It was critical to the market’s success. It was always a unique market. It felt genuinely from the Mission District.

Kim of En Vie Naturals reflects, “I’ve had the pleasure of seeing babies grow up into young men and women, as well as engagements and marriages. The fierce determination of organizers, market staff, vendors, and customers especially in the beginning was crucial. I smile now just remembering the market’s very humble beginnings.”

Join CUESA in celebrating the 10th anniversary of Mission Community Market⁠ and National Farmers Market Week on Thursday, August 6, 3 to 7 pm.

About CUESA

CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) is dedicated to growing thriving communities through the power and joy of local food. Learn More »