I watch as Theresa Alvarez painstakingly turns four year old Rolando Steinway-Raybon into a tiger with the palette of face-paints sitting in front of the Mission Beacon neighborhood organizer. Next to them, speakers bumped a hip hop song. Down the block of Bartlett Street where they sat, community members were buying and selling bags of salad greens and edible flowers, white peaches, homemade soaps, and pupusas that came with salad and salsa for the princely sum of $2. A lot going on at the first Mission Community Market, which Alvarez takes as a good sign.
“We're not only giving out produce, but services people might need,” she told me between happily decorated children. Alvarez's face-painting operation had set up shop behind a table full of literature about Mission Beacon, the local organization she works for whose mission is to empower youth by exposing them to new places and skills – a bike club and a gardening class are two of the programs that the group offers out of Everett Middle School.
The presence of neighborhood nonprofits – Dolores Community Youth Alliance and volunteers from the Mission YMCA had joined Alvarez in organizing the kids play space and were also distributing information about their programs in the hopes of attracting new volunteers – was one sign that this is a market that's trying hard to address the needs of local residents.
Rolando Steinway-Raybon and sister Naijella show off their new facial flair, courtesy of the kid's space at the first Mission Community Market
The concept was first dreamed up in November of 2009 at public planning meetings for the Mission Streetscape Plan, which is re-envisioning street usage in the neighborhood. One of the market's head organizers, Jeremy Shaw, told me its implementation followed a three point plan; “one, the farmers market, which promotes healthy eating. Number two, supporting emerging businesses, people that don't have the capital for a storefront. Number three, community programs. We're saying, we're going to provide this public space and you can do what you want with it. We can use this street for more than just cars.”
True that said the crowd yesterday evening; we can use it for veggies! And for playing four square! And the strumming tunes of a mini-orchestral group! As I strolled through in the early evening hours, the block was slowly filling up with shoppers and those who had paused on their way home to see what all the commotion was about. At 5:30 p.m., volunteers at both entrances told me that they'd already counted around 330 attendees, and expected the numbers to rise as more people got off work. The market raised money for this week's opening at a fundraiser on Bartlett Street in June, and aims to close the block between 21st and 22nd Street every week at the same time, Thursdays from 4-8 p.m.
Entrepreneurs from the Women's Initiative hawked wares alongside the produce farmers, including Rubber Ducky Soap Co. owner Kelly Smith. Smith, who stood cheerfully behind her table stacked with naturally made bath products in a green skirt and retro cateye glasses, joined the Women's Initiative in 2000 to gather the “networking, support groups, and knowledge” she needed to make her enterprise profitable. She recently used her business acumen to help create a new farmers market herself, in a largely abandoned strip mall parking lot in her town of Marinwood. So how were Sharp, the Streetscape Plan, and the Mission District doing on their first market day? “I have to congratulate them,” Smith told me, smiling. “They're already so tapped into the community, that's the basic. Its a nice honor to be a part of opening day.”
That connection gives Alvarez hope that the Mission Community Market will meet the needs of its neighborhood beyond just its shopping lists. “It's hard when people do this without community organizations and families. In the last several years, the neighborhood's been transforming. I think us being a partner [in the market] will help preserve what's special about this area.”
Update: 1500 attendees came to the market's first week!
Mission Community Market
every Thursday, 4-8 p.m., free
22nd St. and Bartlett, SF
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