Getting To Know The Castro Farmers Market

Earlier today, we wrote about a struggling farmers market in the Upper Haight. Now, we look at another neighborhood market that seems to be thriving, despite its challenges.

For Wendy Stern, working at the Castro Farmers Market is a joy. The Duboce Triangle resident stands behind her fruit stand with a little help from her young son Milo. The pair can be seen each week at the Bernard Ranches table, where they sell pesticide-free oranges, limes, lemons, avocados and other healthy delights.

"I've come to the market for years," Stern told Hoodline as she set up her display on a pleasant Wednesday afternoon. "I was Bernard Ranches customer, they needed help, and I love the market. This is the best gig in town! It's friendly and lively, there's a good sense of community here."

Stern said that some of her customers buy citrus fruits for their cocktails. "Come on, it's the Castro!" she said.

Each Wednesday, the Castro Farmers Market, part of the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association, comes to life on Noe at Market Street alongside Café Flore.

It's a marketplace with a social conscience, offering the Market Match service for shoppers who use Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards. All EBT users have to do is stop off at the information booth and swipe the card for whatever cash amount they need for that day's shopping. "We match them dollar for dollar," said market manager Sarah Kagan.

As an EBT user swiped her card, Kagan handed over 20 tokens to the customer. "Pink tokens are for anything except hot food made on site," she explained. "Green tokens are for fruits and vegetables." The EBT user, who had punched in ten dollars, received 20 tokens, half green, and half pink.

"There's a real community feel," Kagan told Hoodline. "We see a lot of the same faces over time."

In addition to the expected fruits and veggies,  tables filled with homemade breads, pastries, and aromatic cheeses line the stretch of Noe Street.

There's even the family-owned Bolani, purveyors of gourmet Afghan Food. "It's low calorie and low fat," promised Mona, our server for the day. Bolani offers a collection of Middle Eastern condiments and flatbreads, and also prepares fresh sandwiches for customers.

"I love this market," Mona said. "It's my favorite, and everyone is so nice." 

The close-knit community of the market seems to be the place to be seen for longtime Castro residents. "I've been coming every week for three years," said Leah, a shopper. "I love the vendors, having access to local farmers, and being able to feed my family fresh food."

Stern notes that younger, newer residents can be a scarcity at the market. "The tech people use Instacart. We're not seeing them—they have no sense of community."

We asked Mike of Arata Farms what makes the Castro market unique when compared to other farmers markets. Mike, who also works the Mission Farmers Market and his local Brentwood Farmers Market, told Hoodline that the Castro Farmers Market is an entity unto itself. "I never serve drag queens, leather men, or nude people at the other markets," Mike said with a laugh. "I told people in Brentwood about that but they don't believe me!"

How has the ongoing drought affected vendors? Mike told us that his sales were down this year. "They shut my water off at midnight, which affects the amount of product I can grow." He is now working on getting his farm irrigated from a different source, which will cost him three times as much.

These may be hard times, but the Castro Farmers Market continues on. Check out the market, located on Noe Street between Market and Beaver streets, every Wednesday from 4-8pm.

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