The Ferry Building is the grand dame of food halls, standing proud at the top of Market Street, with a sweeping view across the Bay. Usually filled with bustling commuters and tourists, the building has cleared out and fallen quiet. Many of the merchants inside have temporarily shuttered, although Acme, Delica, and El Porteno Empanadas are still open for takeout. But outside is a different story, where farmers serve up fresh produce to shoppers eager to stock up on food.
In our rush to buy groceries at big name retailers, many San Franciscans may have missed a key detail: farmers markets are considered “essential businesses,” and for now, many remain open despite the order to shelter in place. With true Californian grit, our local farmers are still showing up to feed people, even as they’re overshadowed by the nearly empty Ferry Building.
This time of year — given that it’s winter and drizzling — the Saturday morning farmers market would normally have about 80 vendors. Last weekend, given both the rain and coronavirus concerns, 20 vendors dropped out. This week, following the shelter-in-place orders, the Tuesday market was down even further than usual. There are normally tents lined up on both sides of the clock tower, but yesterday, they only filled the south side. In addition to farm stands, the Ferry Building also includes a number of food vendors, who sell sandwiches, tamales, and cakes and pies by the slice. Sadly, the food vendors have been some of the first to go dark, as those small makers lose access to shared production kitchens. But the farmers are still standing guard, and locals were still crossing Embarcadero Street to fill up shopping bags with freshly picked goods.
In terms of coronavirus concerns, farmers markets may have some unexpected advantages over grocery stores. For example, farmers markets aren’t overwhelmed with panic buyers at the moment. By nature, they’re open air, which allows for greater social distance. And the more local the food, the fewer touchpoints. In conventional food systems, it takes a lot of hands to pick a piece of produce, pack it up, put it on a truck, unload it in a warehouse, and set it on a shelf. In contrast, if you’re buying from a local farmer, you might be talking to the person who picked the sugar snaps that morning.
Given the current health and safety guidelines, the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) has put additional practices in place at the Ferry Plaza Market: No more samples for mandarin slices. No more tables and chairs to sit down and enjoy a tamale. And now there are signs encouraging shoppers to stand six feet apart, and pop-up handwashing stations dot the area.
Many of the individual vendors are also putting in extra care. Last weekend, Far West Fungi was individually bagging up half pounds of baby shiitakes, so shoppers didn’t have to reach into bins. Even among the small farms, many had credit card payment options to avoid handling cash.
The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is unique in that it sells not only to locals, but to tourists and chefs. It has a reputation as one of the most chef-friendly markets in the country, equipped with carts and “veggie valet” service, so the pros can roll in before the crowds, pick off the prime produce, and get back to their kitchens. Now, though, the tourists are already gone, and with restaurants now limited to takeout or delivery, business will certainly suffer.
Lorraine Walker, from Eatwell Farm, says she hasn’t missed a single market in 27 years, and she has no intention of starting now. Against the odds, she says, “I’m excited. With tech and home delivery, there are a lot of young people who have never known the joy of shopping the farmers market, and tasting those first real strawberries in the spring.” She, like many producers, is leaning into her community-supported agriculture (CSA) box program, and is now looking into offering home deliveries. “We’re getting creative, and we’re looking outside the box. And people are still coming to the markets. They keep thanking us for being here.”
Farmers Markets That Are Still Open
Things are changing rapidly, but this list was correct as of March 18
Alemany Farmers Market
When: Saturdays 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Where: 100 Alemany Blvd
Castro Farmers Market
When: Wednesdays 4 to 8 p.m.
Where: 288 Noe St
Divisadero Farmers Market
When: Sundays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: 1375 Fell St
Clement Street Farmers Market
When: Sundays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: 200 Clement Street
Crocker Galleria Farmers Market
When: Thursdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: Crocker Galleria, 50 Post St
Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
When: Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Fillmore Farmers Market
When: Saturdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Where: Fillmore Center Plaza, O’Farrell St and Fillmore St
Fort Mason Center Farmers Market
When: Sundays 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Where: Fort Mason Center, Marina Blvd
Heart of the City Farmers Market
When: Sundays 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesdays 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Where: Civic Center
Inner Sunset Farmers Market
When: Sundays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Where: Parking lot south of Irving St, between 8th and 9th Ave
Noe Valley Farmers Market
When: Saturdays 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Where: Noe Valley Town Square at 3861 24th Street
Stonestown Farmers Market
When: Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Where: 3251 20th Ave San Francisco
V.A. San Francisco Farmers Market
When: Wednesdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: V.A. Hospital, Veterans Dr, Clement St and 42nd Ave