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Guest Editorial: Meet a farmer. Eat a tomato. Help your community.

Posted: November 3rd, 2017 | Guest Editorial, Opinion, Opinion & News | No Comments

By Catt Fields White

Sometimes it seems tough to make a difference nowadays, so you’ll be glad to know that you can make a positive change with this one simple and tasty decision each week.

If you’ve cracked a few eggs for your morning omelet and discovered yolks that are deep orange; cut a mottled tomato into thick slices and made a sandwich on grainy just-baked bread; or let the juice of a perfectly ripe peach drip down your chin; you already know you win the flavor jackpot with food from your local farmers market.

The Little Italy Mercato is a healthy alternative and the money you spend goes directly to the farmers. (Photo by Chris Bourlier)

But did you know that your shopping choices also have a direct impact on the financial health of Downtown San Diego and beyond?

When you buy food directly from the farmer or food maker at your local farmers market, the farmer keeps what you pay. Purchase the same food from a grocery store and the person who produced your food keeps far, far less in their pocket; for some crops, even just pennies on the dollar.

If farmers can’t afford to stay on the land and pay San Diego water prices, your food choices will soon be limited.

The Little Italy Mercato farmers market is a wonderful place to meet your neighbors, listen to music and enjoy the vibrant scene. But at its heart, it’s also a Certified California Farmers Market, designed to be your grocery store in the street.

Downtown still has just a smattering of grocery shopping options. In fact, it was a self-serving desire on my part not to have to travel far from home to shop for fresh food that pushed me to create the market on behalf of the Little Italy Association. It was a thrill to discover that so many of you throughout Downtown San Diego also found that valuable.

Farmers sell direct to the public under California direct marketing law, deliberately designed to improve our food producers’ financial sustainability. When you shop at farmers markets, you have a very specific effect on our community that doesn’t happen when you buy your food from a typical retailer. The USDA, National Farmers’ Union and the Farmers’ Market Coalition all track statistics on how much farmers gain and local communities benefit when you shop at farmers markets.

Studies show that three times as much money stays in the local economy when entrepreneurs sell directly to consumers, than when wholesale distributors and retail chains — often based in another state entirely — take their cut.

In the case of the Little Italy Mercato in particular, the market generates thousands of dollars annually to help fund street cleaning, flowers on the corners, safety patrols, and special events, like Trick or Treat on India Street, the Marine Band concerts and the summer film festival.

More than 300 San Diegans earn their living at the market, paying their rent, supporting their families, shopping at local stores and eating at local restaurants with the money they earn selling what they produce.

As a Downtown resident, when you come to West Cedar Street on Saturday mornings to buy the bulk of your groceries at the Little Italy Mercato farmers market, you get the freshest, tastiest food available.

But you also do something even bigger.

You support the people who sweep your sidewalks and put haystacks and scarecrows on the corners each October. You let farmers keep farming, nursery owners keep growing flowers, bakers keep baking, and juicers keep juicing. Support your local farmers market and you’re investing in your community and the availability of healthy food for years to come.

— Catt Fields White is the CEO of San Diego Markets and teaches farmers and food makers to develop and maintain financially healthy businesses through regular Vendor-101 classes and the annual InTents Conference. Reach her at cattfieldswhite@gmail.com.

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