CUESA Farmer's Markets Stay Open Amid Protests

Example of safety signage posted throughout at CUESA's Mission Community Market. (Brie Mazurek / CUESA)

CUESA’s farmer’s markets are no strangers to protests. San Francisco's Ferry Building has often served as the beginning or endpoint for many demonstrations, says executive director Christine Farren. “We’ve never had public outcries or demonstrations turn violent in our farmer’s markets,” she says.

In light of the protests sweeping the Bay Area and the country in response to the killing of George Floyd, the organization recently held a meeting to discuss whether or not to keep its markets open. One of the biggest concerns was the Mission Community Market, because it’s held at a later time than the Saturday Ferry Building location.

: CUESA operations team members Jameil Minor, Tommy Phung, and Andrea Akers (right). (Brie Mazurek / CUESA)

Ultimately, CUESA decided to remain open, but with limited hours. “It’s very important to stay open,” says operations manager Andrea Akers. “We are essential to folks in the neighborhood, and it’s mostly people of color. It’s a great resource to the local community and POC in the neighborhood. Being a black woman myself, it’s great to support them.”

She added that with the coronavirus pandemic, many people are trying to stay in their local neighborhoods and are avoiding public transit. That makes it difficult for people in the Mission District to get to different markets, like the Ferry Building. Farmers, even at the Civic Center farmer’s market, haven’t seen any problems from the protests. “It gave me hope hearing from other farmers,” says Akers. 

All sellers were called and told that they weren’t obligated to attend. Since Wednesday, no sellers have canceled their spot at the market. These spaces or farmers and sellers are providing a much-needed place for income to make rent, says Farren. Farmers plan out their harvests long before these markets. They harvest ahead of time, and for a market to get canceled or for them to not go to a farmer’s market puts a dent in their livelihood, says Akers. Otherwise, their harvest goes to waste. 

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“This is an outlet for sellers; this is their livelihood,” says Cindy Mendoza, who is the volunteer and special projects coordinator for the market. “We fought really hard with our fellow farmer’s market operators that this is an essential service, and as long as we can maintain it safely, it makes sense keeping it open.”

Now is the peak season for the market, which means that CUESA will have to coordinate with the highest number of vendors for the year. Akers has the challenge of complying with CDC and other health protocols while also trying to keep the market’s footprint as small as possible during the protests. 

Current shopper and past Mission Community Market board member Anna Derivi-Castellanos. (Brie Mazurek / CUESA)

“We plan to stay open as long as possible until we are forced to shut down,” says Akers.

The organization has long had the perception of being for a white customer base in a wealthier socioeconomic bracket. In the last several months, the organization has tried to change that, and the Mission location is one of those efforts. The organization has also made an effort to hire more people of color in leadership roles, says Farren. 

Akers, who has been with CUESA for 10.5 years, says that the organization has changed drastically over the last few months. “In the past, it’s been a dominantly white staff, but I got onto a team where there were already people of color on the operations team,” she says. “Non-POC staff are doing a racial justice equity challenge and trying to get the organization to be an anti-racist organization. We belong there. We’re figuring things out and making sure that all people of color on staff feel comfortable and that we can speak up and be heard.”