The Oak Park Farmers Market may well be the fresh-food equivalent of Cheers — a place where everybody knows your name. Just ask market regulars Michele Emery and Sheila Osborne, who greet each other with a hug as they arrive for the market’s season opener on May 7.
“We’re a community,” Emery explains. “We’re family.”
Osborne adds: “I live for this market, from May till November.”
Oak Park Farmers Market — held at McClatchy Park — is one of 24 certified farmers markets in Sacramento County, about half operating seasonally from May through November. Joany Titherington manages this market, sponsored by NeighborWorks Sacramento, and she strives for a diverse mix of goodies including organic fruits and vegetables, baked goods and specialty items.
The market’s seventh season began with about 20 vendors; 80 percent of whom live within 25 miles of the park, Titherington says. Many returning vendors have become market favorites, with customers lining up for organic produce from Heavy Dirt Farm in Davis, vegetable starts from Cherry Hill Farms in Fair Oaks, DavePops gourmet popsicles, Fresh Way fish and Yolanda’s Tamales. Aoyama Farm from Fresno County missed last year’s market but has returned for a second season.
New this year is Crucial Kitchen, run by Gypsy Andrews and Will Morris, who make jams and grain-free baked goods as licensed cottage food operators (individuals who prepare non-potentially hazardous foods in private-home kitchens). “We’ve been coming here since this market opened,” says Andrews, who lives a few miles away in the North City Farms neighborhood. “It’s not too hectic. I feel like people spend time here. They connect.”
The market also offers entertainment, education and wellness programs, such as free yoga in the park with the Yoga Seed Collective. The “Kids Bucks” program allows children to earn $5 in market vouchers for visiting food vendors and learning about fruits and vegetables. And a new partnership with the UC Davis Medical Center will create a market concierge service, with nutrition students volunteering to shop at the market with customers who have dietary questions.
“This market means so much for Oak Park,” says Tamika L’Ecluse, president of Oak Park Neighborhood Association. “It means we’re utilizing this space that’s the center of our neighborhood. We’re making connections. We’re taking care of our neighborhood. It’s caring for our community not just with food, but being in a place where you feel you belong.”
The market also connects with other neighborhood food-based organizations, such as the Oak Park Sol community garden, which has about 25 local gardeners tending 16 plots on a lot on Broadway near 38th Street, about four blocks from the market. Oak Park Sol partners with another local nonprofit, the Food Literacy Center, to offer cooking classes in the garden’s outdoor kitchen, and every attendee — adults and children — receive a $5 voucher to the farmers market.
“We can teach about it,” says Randy Stannard, director of Oak Park Sol. “The students can cook and eat, but they need a regular access point where they can get the fresh produce to have the whole thing come together. If we all pull on the same rope in the same direction, it helps everyone.”
Titherington agrees that the market has become a way to build social capital, attracting investments of both time and money into Oak Park. Her goal is to continue getting vendors selling a diverse mix of items which, in turn, will bring in more customers and build a stronger community.
“The market is not just for people who are affluent and have extra dollars in their pocket,” Titherington says. “The farmers market should be an equal playing field — a level playing field.”