THE BLOG
07/12/2011 10:53 pm ET Updated Sep 11, 2011

Why We Should Care Where Our Food Comes From

The San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market is a gem nestled in the heart of the Southeast Section of San Francisco -- most do not know it even exists. Instead, the Southeast is known for sunny weather and as home to working-class San Franciscans.

It was relatively quiet as San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and I walked through the market on a Tuesday morning. We passed warehouses filled with giant bags of onions, flats of strawberries, and piles of tomatoes, all stacked and waiting to be delivered.

The market is busiest in the middle of the night, when the rest of the Bay Area is sleeping. Trucks arrive every night to deliver freshly harvested produce to the 27 merchants who rent space at the market. The produce is then packed and distributed all over the city to restaurants, hotels, catering companies, and neighborhood grocery stores; a reminder of how food is also such an integral part of the economy of our communities. When we arrived, a few of the market's 650 workers were still packing trucks full of fresh produce for deliveries later that day. One merchant told us his workers pack and deliver produce to the same route each day so they get to know the neighborhoods and businesses they serve.

Above the warehouses of refrigerated storage rooms are offices where each merchant keeps track of orders and shipments. Underneath the offices you can find Asian produce, organic produce, Latino produce, imported specialty produce, and even a catering company. The catering company runs a small café in the market to feed the workers during their odd hours. It was packed at mid-morning, its kitchen bustling to prepare salads, sandwiches and other dishes from the freshly delivered produce.

Originally located along San Francisco's Embarcadero, the market moved to Bayview about 50 years ago. Now that the lease is about to expire, the City is looking to renew the lease with a larger vision for the future: a renovated space, more jobs for local residents, and easier access for individual shoppers.

Although residents are already welcome to shop at the market, the current layout and truck traffic make it difficult to navigate. Also, since it is a wholesale market, the produce is sold in large quantities, which makes it less convenient for individuals or small families to buy an appropriate amount of food. The proposed expansion project will allow the market to become a food and restaurant destination for the community; soon, fresh produce will be more easily available to all of San Francisco, particularly those in the Southeast part of the City.

One group that is facilitating easy access to fresh produce in the Bayview neighborhood is the Southeast Food Access (SEFA) Workgroup. SEFA works with retail food markets, food distributors for low-income residents, and restaurants to ensure that they meet the standards of the rest of the City and are accessible to all the residents of the Southeast section of San Francisco. SEFA is also a major supporter of nutrition awareness programs and urban agriculture in the Southeast corridor. I look forward to seeing their impact in the Bayview as access to fresh produce continues to improve.

If you are looking for a good source of fresh produce before the renovation of the Wholesale Produce Market is completed, I would encourage you to consider joining a CSA farm. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a movement that began about 20 years ago to bring organic produce directly to consumers. Consumers support small, locally owned farms through a subscription in which they receive weekly boxes of produce. One CSA in particular, Eatwell Farms, currently serves over 25 neighborhoods in San Francisco, including the Bayview.

One Bayview resident is currently organizing members from the community to participate in Eatwell Farms' program. Each week, the boxes of produce will be delivered near 3rd and Innes Streets for residents to pick up. The farm also hosts events for its members, ranging from picking strawberries to canning tomatoes to cutting lavender. These events are great opportunities to connect with neighbors and see firsthand where your produce comes from.

Whether you decide to navigate the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market or get deliveries straight to your neighborhood with local CSA programs, it is extremely important to have easy access to fresh produce and to know where your food comes from. Supporting local farmers bolsters the economy of our communities, but also makes it much less likely for you to consume pesticide-infested produce that was harvested weeks ago on massive farms around the country -- or even overseas, where there are fewer food regulations. Though there are already a variety of places to find fresh produce in San Francisco, I am excited to see healthy fruits and vegetables become even more available to residents of the Southeast section of San Francisco and the entirety of San Francisco.