Every Saturday the city of Pomona hosts its weekly farmers market on the corner of Pearl Street and Garey Avenue.
The market, in a parking lot just off the main drag, is filled with vendors ranging from your typical fruits and vegetables to micro-greens and tamales.
However, the market has not always had the luxury of having so many vendors. Early last year with few vendors and low turnouts, the market was all but dead.
Elinor Crescenzi, co-manager of the market, found flaws in the business structure and decided something needed to be done.
“We looked at the market and saw there weren’t many vendors,” Crescenzi said. “There wasn’t much high quality organic produce at the market and we had to acknowledge that the mechanisms of capitalism don’t work to bring high quality foods into low-income areas.”
Crescenzi reached out to the most sustainable farms in the area, such as Amy’s Farm in Ontario, to see if they would help provide their produce to a lower income area at a more sustainable price. To accomplish this, Crescenzi goes to the farms herself the day of the market to pick up the produce, eliminating transportation costs.
Next she enlists the help of local volunteers who are willing to help sell, eliminating labor costs.
Crescenzi also organizes food security baskets that are filled with leftover produce from the day to be given to those in need, minimizing waste. Crescenzi eliminates the middle-man from their structure, which in turn allows them to sell the produce for a much lower price.
“With the transportation cost, labor cost and the loss cost minimized for the farmer, the farmer is able to sell directly to the public at what would be their wholesale cost,” Crescenzi said.
They call this business structure “the wholesale model.” The market also offers what is called a market-match subsidy, accepting EBT or food stamps at twice the value – meaning if you had $10 in EBT, you would be able to spend $20 at the market.
“With that model, we’re developing something that meets the state agricultural department regulations where there is an authorized vendor selling on (the farmers’) behalf and we make it possible for food to be inside the community at an affordable price,” Crescenzi said.
Since the market revamped its system in June 2018, Crescenzi says it has grown and added other features, such as live music.
“The size of the market has tripled in terms of the amount of farm vendors and community activities – there weren’t any community activities before, now there’s free community coffee, lending libraries and we’re also collaborating with the dA (Center for Arts),” Crescenzi said.
Some of the vendors appreciate the new-and-improved market.
“Since last year, I feel that we’ve been getting more people even throughout the winter, so I think word’s getting around little by little, and I think the re-grand opening that they did really helped us get some publicity,” said Esteban Aldana, a tamale vendor representing Me Gusta Tamales.
In buying from a local farmers market, there is a much greater sense of accountability – something that is often lost in larger commercial grocery stores.
A 2017 study by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation found that four percent of produce sold in grocery stores is contaminated with an illegal amount of pesticides.
In addition to the pesticides, many grocery stores also use a wax coating on their fruits to make them look more presentable.
“This fruit (at the market) is free of pesticides,” fruit vendor Roberto Segura said. “At stores they use a lot of pesticides and wax – these ones are clean, no wax, no nothing. It’s natural.”
The market’s coffee booth volunteers, Will Floyd and Marco Regau, have both been with the market since it reopened in 2018 and say that the market provides a much better experience than your typical grocery store.
“You’re getting much better food that’s local, and you’re getting it at a really discounted price,” Floyd said.
“We’re building a relaxed community where people can talk about things, have a cup of coffee or eat,” Regau said.
University of La Verne junior criminology major Samantha Huerta, who left the market with several grapefruits, strawberries and a loaf of bread, says she enjoyed the market for its affordable prices and communal atmosphere.
“I feel like the prices were really good for the quality of the produce,” Huerta said. “It builds a real sense of community where you can sit down and have a cup of coffee with people from that community; you’re not just going to the grocery store where you don’t know where the produce is coming from.”
With society’s ever growing interest in health and fitness, more people are wanting to buy organic produce and in turn visit these farmers markets.
“I find working in farmers markets, it’s a very different culture. People are interested in preparing food, they’re talking about what they’re doing, they’re wanting to learn more about being healthy and they’re sharing that with their friends and family,” Crescenzi said. “They’re kind of using the farmers market as support for that change.”
The market is open from 8 a.m. to noon every Saturday, rain or shine.
“I’m really excited about this model becoming one that is able to be used other places for disadvantaged communities,” Crescenzi said. “To my mind, it’s a very serious environmental justice problem that lower income communities don’t have access to healthy food.”
Joey Matsuzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.