Friends of Farming
San Diego County
^^^ A gardener tends to her crops at the New Roots Community Farm run by the International Rescue Committee in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego, CA. Photographer: Sandy Huffaker/IRC.
Visitors to Farm Bureau’s City Heights Farmers’ Market in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego are often struck by two things: the diversity of produce on display, and the diversity of people walking and working the market. One can hear up to 15 different languages spoken while walking the rows on any given Saturday morning.
San Diego County Farm Bureau partnered with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to bring the City Heights Farmers’ Market to fruition in 2008. The IRC office in San Diego serves primarily as a refugee resettlement agency, resettling about 1,000 people per year fleeing conflict, disaster, or persecution. City Heights is where many of IRC’s clients settle which contributes to the wide diversity of cultures in the community.
Over the years, many IRC refugee clients have participated in City Heights Farmers’ Market as vendors and earned supplemental income for themselves. Along with handicrafts and artwork, many have been able to grow and sell produce at the market thanks to IRC’s New Roots Community Farm.
The farm was initially conceived as a sort of cure. For many refugees, leaving their home countries and resettling in an entirely new environment is jarring. Bilali Muya, an IRC staffer and member of the Somali Bantu community was quoted in a 2011 New York Times article about refugee farming, saying, “There was this kind of depression. Everyone was dreaming to come to the U.S.A., but they were not happy. The people were put in apartments, missing activity, community. They were bored.” The IRC saw a community garden as a solution to improve their clients’ nutrition, mental health, and finances by allowing people to grow their own food, and create connections between neighbors.
The IRC established the New Roots Community Farm as a community garden in June 2009 after months of negotiations with the City of San Diego and $46,000 in fees. As a result of their struggle to open the community garden, and working closely with city staff and other organizations, the IRC was able to influence city ag policy and it is now free to start a community garden in the City of San Diego. In 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama visited the garden and declared it a “model for the nation.”
At the New Roots Community Farm, which is located on the corner of 54th St. and Chollas Parkway in San Diego, 83 families grow herbs, fruits, and vegetables on 93 plots across 2.4 acres of land. Six of those growers have at one time sold their produce at CHFM, averaging $100 a day in sales. For those residents, an average of $400 a month is a significant supplemental income. The IRC offers soil and irrigation training at the garden, as well as a broader farmer training program on land in Pauma Valley. Clients who go through the training are equipped to grow their own produce and sell to local restaurants, take it home to their families, or sell it at the City Heights or nearby El Cajon farmers’ markets.
City Heights farmers’ market has proven itself financially successful, open and running every week year-round since it opened, in a low-income neighborhood where half the residents live at or below the federal poverty line. Part of the market’s success is due to its accessibility. CHFM was the first farmers’ market in San Diego County to process electronic benefit transfer (EBT) transactions. EBT is California’s system by which qualifying individuals and families use food and nutrition assistance dollars from the state. CHFM was also one of nine pilot markets in the state to accept Women, Infants, Children (WIC) food and vegetable checks.
Making it easy for residents to use all the resources they have to feed themselves and their families has earned the market a special place in the heart of the community. Just as the New Roots Community Farm offers opportunity and community to many people displaced from their homes, City Heights Farmers’ Market brings a diversity of people together every Saturday morning right in the heart of the neighborhood.
Friends of Farming San Diego County 1670 E. Valley Parkway, Escondido, CA 92027 760-745-3023 Casey@sdfarmbureau.org