Visit to City Heights Farmers’ Market and New Roots Community Farm, San Diego

Date: 28 July, 2012

 Kathy Smith and I visited the City Heights Farmers’ Market, , followed by a visit to the New Roots Community Farm, an initiative by the International Rescue Committee (IRC). This document presents an overview of our visit, and hope we can learn from activities that are happening in this market and also contribute, if interested. Before going into the details about the visit, a brief overview of the IRC, City Heights Farmers’ Market and the New Roots program.

Our visit

We first visited the City Heights Farmers’ Market – a small market with about 20 – 30 vendors, with about 10 vendors selling vegetables. Out of them, few were refugees from Somalia, and others were from slightly bigger farms. The main focus of the market was to make available good quality vegetables, fruits and eggs to the neighbourhood, as an alternative to the unhealthier options widely available. The first stall had two volunteers who were assisting people with filling out CalFresh applications. CalFresh is a program whereby people can use their Food stamps to buy vegetables from the Farmers’ Market. Many immigrants fear that joining this program might affect their immigration status, and the volunteers at the desk were telling how this was not true. Their job was to  help speed-up the application process, where in the normal course, an applicant would have to visit multiple offices and hence might be discouraged. They also conduct presentations to teach people healthy food habits and recipes. They also advise on other community initiatives – such as distributing information about S-Comm (Secure Communities), a deportation program that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency conducts. The fear that has brought among the people is so much that even victims of crime are afraid to report to the police, due to fear of deportation.

We bought some vegetables, and Kathy enjoyed “papusa” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pupusa ), a Costa Rican dish that one of the vendors was selling. We met a family that had settled from Columbia, and they joined us near the papusa stand. One of the vendors caught my attention. This was a group called Eat City Heights, a volunteer organization, who do a “wholesale” deal for the shoppers/community and they claim that all the money goes to the farmers. Shoppers are asked to reserve in advance a produce bag of $15, which will contain a mix and match of fruits, vegetables and eggs. The group will purchase these and bring it to the market every Saturday to distribute. The contents of the produce bag is decided by the group, and so shoppers had to accept that. On a quick glance, the list looked quite impressive for $15; the volunteers stationed at the stall said that they sell about 12 – 20 bags every week. Check out their website: http://eatcityheights.org/

We went around neighbourhood. A nearby Library, built using the California redevelopment funds, was well-maintained and well-lit and we saw a small corner where a few children sat at computers. There was also a queue outside a room called “Lab”, where young and old adults were waiting for access to computers and Internet – things that they can seldom afford. We sat there for a few minutes reflecting how outside that neighbourhood, in our lives, we feel so much despair when the Internet connection goes down for a few minutes. There were also other programs that were advertised in the Library including summer reading classes for children.

Finally, as we were leaving the area, we saw a small gathering “Occupy San Diego”, not on the same basis as the Occupy movements in other cities. This was related to extrajudicial killing of one Victor Ortega by the police, and the family and friends of Ortega were holding a demonstration outside the Police Headquarters, City Heights. A lady was explaining how the various reasons given by the police about the shooting were incorrect, and she was getting nods of approval from those present. This comes in the background of shootings in Anaheim, CA and there were talks about holding a joined protest by the Ortegas and other affected families in Anaheim, CA.

Following this we went to the garden New Roots. It was near the intersection of 54th Street and Lea Street, and sandwiched between 54th Street, Chollas Pkwy and Chollas N Pkwy. No one was around when we went. The farm was partitioned into smaller farms, and it looked more like a collection of gardens. In the middle, we saw what resembled a community meeting place, with a small shelter and notice board identifying some of the vegetables growing there. There were boxes marked for compost, but we couldn’t get much information about them. We met a friend of Kathy, Henri who is also an activist and a gardener, and coincidentally happened to visit the City heights Market and New Roots. Finally we met a farmer, Antonio, who spoke Spanish. Kathy was able to converse and we found that he used the farm primarily for growing vegetables for his own family, and in case there is excess, he would sell it in the market. They had to pay $40 for water to the City (which is per month, I guess). His farm included chillies, squash and a few other vegetables.

Finally, we visited the New Roots Aqua Farm (also related to IRC), a nursery that has come up on a parking lot just off University Avenue, City Heights. They “grow” fish and re-use the water used to grow grow small plants. After coming back, I learnt that the system that is used in the Aqua Farm is  called “aquaponics”, a combination of aquaculture (growing aquatic animals like fishes) and hydroponics (growing plants in a nutrient solution, like water from the aquaculture, without soil). The Aqua Farm also had a lot of other plants – fruits, vegetables, flowers – and I am not sure if everything there is under aquaponics. Some photos from the New Roots Community Garden and New Roots Aqua Farm may be found here:

–                    New Roots Community Farm (http://tinyurl.com/bw8tj6x)

–                    New Roots Aqua Farm (http://tinyurl.com/d76g7uq)

Interesting links:

1. International Rescue Committee

(direct from http://www.rescue.org/about)

“The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people to survive and rebuild their lives. Founded in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein, the IRC offers lifesaving care and life-changing assistance to refugees forced to flee from war or disaster.

­At work today in over 40 countries and in 22 U.S. cities, the IRC restores safety, dignity and hope to millions who are uprooted and struggling to endure. The IRC leads the way from harm to home.”

2. City Heights Farmers’ Market

The City Heights Farmers Market was started in 2008 to provide fresh vegetables to community in the City Heights neighbourhood, a lot of whom are refugees. They support local farmers, and the flagship feature of this market is that they accept food stamps, the first farmers’ market in San Diego to do so. They also allow other voucher and similar programs that enables the people to buy fresh vegetables from the market. They also have few stalls where vendors originating from countries other than US sell their traditional food. It is located in 4326 28 Wightman Street, San Diego, CA and opens every Saturday between 9 am and 1 pm.

3. New Roots Community Farm

The New Roots Community Farm was started on a 2.3 acre land in the City Heights area of San Diego. Eighty families farm in this small area, and allows many of the refugees (mentioned earlier) to live their way of living back in their country. For most who hardly speak English and are afraid to communicate outside, this provides good relief and exercise. Efforts are being made to make produce made in this farm to be sold in the City Heights Farmers’ Market. In April 2010, the first Lady Michelle Obama visited this farm and called it a “model for the nation, for the world.”

http://www.rescue.org/news/refugees-plant-new-roots-community-farm-7351

http://www.cityfarmer.info/2010/01/15/new-roots-community-farm-80-immigrant-and-refugee-urban-farmers-in-san-diego/

A better description of Community Farm: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhK_WEfzecc

4. San Diego Community Roots: http://sandiegoroots.org/comm_gardens.html

5. Eat City Heights – volunteer organization selling produce basket; http://eatcityheights.org/

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