By Arielle Gordon-Rowe
Many know CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) as the San Francisco-based organization that has run the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market since 1999. However last May CUESA took over operations of the Jack London Square farmers market, from the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association, and has therefore begun to establish a presence in East Bay too. On Oct. 30, CUESA is hosting a fall harvest festival at its new location to celebrate its official Oakland launch.
Since its inception in 2003, the nonprofit has been implementing its mission to “cultivate a sustainable food system through the operation of farmers markets and educational programs.” CUESA is continuing to follow this vision at Jack London Square, where, in addition to running a Sunday market, the organization hopes to activate the event as a tool to educate community members about sustainable food systems.
CUESA is also keen on making the Jack London market an operation run by and for the Oakland community. “We are really looking to highlight new and innovative Oakland businesses and reflect the community there,” said Brie Mazurek, CUESA’s marketing and communications manager. CUESA has also been sure to retain every vendor from the previous market and keep all the same pricing structures throughout the market’s transitional phase.
Sergio Jimenez of Ground Stew Farms has been selling organic produce in Jack London Square for about three years and witnessed the market undergo its transition this past May. According to Jimenez, CUESA’s effort to bring in more organic vendors has been well-received by customers. CUESA is “actually true to [its] mission. [It is] there for the farmers, customers, for being sustainable,” he said. “I’m getting feedback from customers that they love it.”
CUESA has also focused its energy on making other improvements to the Jack London market. “We have increased customer service, educational programming, demos and tastings,” said Marcy Coburn, CUESA’s executive director. In addition, CUESA wants to increase the variety and affordability of products to make the market a more accessible shopping option.
The Market Match program allows shoppers who use the electronic benefit transfer (EBT) system to double their dollars up to $10 per market day and get tokens redeemable for fresh fruits and vegetables. The program has already been implemented at 130 farmers markets throughout the state, benefitting both consumers and farmers by making healthy eating more affordable and drawing new customers to farm stands. “I think everyone should have a right to healthy food,” said Jimenez. “We benefit because if there wasn’t this program, they wouldn’t be able to shop with us.”
Beyond the farmers market, CUESA has established a series of educational initiatives to promote community participation in sustainable food systems. Foodwise Kids enables elementary school classes to use the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market as a destination for field trips. Students explore the market, taste produce and interact with vendors. The experience culminates in the kitchen, where students get their hands dirty and prepare a healthy snack.
CUESA has also piloted a Schoolyard to Market program for students who attend one of three participating San Francisco Unified School District high schools. Through the program, students experience the process of sustainable cultivation firsthand by growing food in their school gardens and then selling the produce in farmers markets. At the upcoming harvest festival, students from Treasure Island’s Life Learning Academy will be selling plant starts, herbs and honey from their school garden and beehive.
Conversations are already underway about bringing both programs over to the East Bay in some form. CUESA has approached different funders to work in the Oakland Unified School District and also intends to partner with existing organizations that teach gardening in East Bay schools. “We are not coming in any way to compete,” said Coburn, acknowledging programs like The Edible Schoolyard Project.
“The problem though,” Coburn said, “is that at this point we are only in Jack London Square on Sundays, which limits our ability to work with schools.” So for now, CUESA’s educational efforts in Jack London Square are channeled into free weekly programming.
The Oct. 30 harvest festival is the perfect opportunity to checkout CUESA’s new Oakland presence. Entry is free, and CUESA has a solid lineup of “quintessential outdoor fall activities” in store, such as a DIY apple cider pressing and a pie-making contest, said Coburn.
Arielle Gordon-Rowe, a student at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, is a fall intern at Berkeleyside.