Fresh food to Oak Park, with love

Audreyell“The groundwork of happiness is health.” – Leigh Hunt, Essayist, Poet and Critic (1784-1859)

The concept emerged as early as 1980. Skeptics and outside forces who believed Oak Park residents did not like fruits and vegetables hindered, but could not smother, what is now enjoyed by Oak Park residents and people from across Sacramento.

It’s the Oak Park Farmers Market.

I remember when I first saw the Market. It was a year or two after I graduated from McGeorge School of Law. I was captivated by the sounds of laughter and music, the smell of fresh food, and the colorful array of vegetables, fruits, and grains. This Market was unlike any other.

OP Farmers MarketAround 2005, a collaboration of the Oak Park Neighborhood Association, NeighborWorks Sacramento and other community leaders, worked to establish the Market. Led by Joany Titheringron, long-time resident and president of the Oak Park Neighborhood Association, and Sharon Eghigian, community impact manager of NeighborWorks, the journey began with community meetings.

The need for walking-distance access to fresh fruits and vegetables was quickly identified. The only nearby grocery was Food Source, two miles away.

In 2008, the Oak Park Weed and Seed project, managed by NeighborWorks, hosted a meeting with residents interested in establishing a Community Garden and Farmers Market in Oak Park. After that, Oak Park residents established a Crop Swap, where fruits and vegetables were exchanged and residents learned about beekeeping, canning, master gardening and healthy produce.

But that was just the beginning. The passion to establish the Market increased from an understanding of local sentiment through an event called “Hood Hop,” where residents of Curtis Park and Oak Park participated in a bicycle treasure hunt.

A food survey from Hood Hop revealed the urgency. Answering the question, “Where does hamburger come from?” the majority of the children responded with, “A pig or a store.” The fire was lit and Titheringron, a criminal justice major, turned her educational attention to farming. The goal, she says, was to “try to create something that leveled the field.”

After much research, the Market opened in May of 2010. With significant media coverage, over 2,000 people from across Sacramento attended. Six to eight local vendors were ready and willing to meet the demand.

EBT OP marketToday, the Market is made possible by several funders and supporters, including Kaiser Permanente, the California Endowment, USDA and California Department of Agriculture “Specialty Crop” funding as well as support from other local organizations.

The first season of the Market provided $1,500 to EBT participants. With support from Rabobank, a long-time partner of NeighborWorks Sacramento, by 2015 the total EBT annual sales are up to $40,000.

Titheringron’s research objectives to produce “good, healthy products” for the community led to the participation of many small farmers from up to 150 miles outside the area, plus local vendors such as Sassy Oh Baking Company and Upper Crust Baking Company.

But that wasn’t enough for Joany and Sharon. The Market had to offer more than just fresh produce. It was critical to that the Market empower the community.

With that in mind, the Market provides live music, resources and an educational component – specifically, a cooking series. This series brings prominent local chefs such as Keith Breedlove, local celebrity chef with appearances on Food Network hits such as Guy’s Grocery Games and Cutthroat Kitchen, and Noah Zanka of Capital Dime, to the community.

As Titheringron says, the series “makes others have an experience that they wouldn’t otherwise have. You can taste it, smell it, and watch it cooked.”

A true believer in health bringing happiness, Joany says it’s “really important to deliver the EBT program with dignity.” And that she does!

This Market has become a community treasure. Many residents stay all fours hours (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) to enjoy the festivities and fresh food. Joany and Sharon smile as they recount the face of a frequent marketer, Nancy, an elderly lady who comes to sit, laugh, and eat the entire period. This is community at its best!

Although the market is currently seasonal, May to October, Joany and Sharon have aspirations for a year-round Market. I am keeping my fingers crossed. This Market fills such a gap that during the off-season, residents have learned to buy in bulk and become master preservers through the Market’s canning classes. The desire is there. All that’s needed now is funding.

And to the Sacramento Voices community, Sharon says, “Check out the Market. There are a lot of great activities, wonderful neighbors, and a lot more.”

Joany heartily inspires all to “come out for yoga, stay for Yolanda’s tamales, and leave with fresh produce. People have the right to have healthy food and make the right choice of what to put in their bodies.”

Together, they spur other communities on, saying, “We have a model for a farmer’s market in a low income area. It’s not easy, but it’s critical to have residents’ support. We are invested in the community.”

What’s next for the Oak Park Farmer’s Market?

NeighborWorks is holding focus groups to learn what customers and potential customers want. NeighborWorks will continue to have special events, and more cooking demonstrations hosted by local chefs.

See you at the Oak Park Farmer’s Market!

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