Can a farmers market help transform a neighborhood riddled with crime and lacking adequate access to fresh food? That was the question Joany Titherington and other community leaders posed 13 years ago as they contemplated how to improve life in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood.
“We needed to figure out some solutions to curb some of the crime that was happening in the community and seed in positive programming,” explains Titherington, a longtime member and past president of the Oak Park Neighborhood Association.
At the time, Titherington led a community visioning process in which she invited residents to reimagine their neighborhood. “What we heard was that people wanted lower crime, a beautiful park, restaurants, coffee shops, a library,” she says. Near the top of the wish list was a farmers market to serve the neighborhood, which had few places to purchase fresh produce.
Early attempts to launch the market were met with pessimism. “I was basically told, ‘We tried that there already. Those people don’t want healthy food.’” That comment “lit a fire under my ass,” says Titherington, who enlisted the nonprofit NeighborWorks for help. What began modestly as an urban farm stand and then a neighborhood crop swap has evolved into a full-fledged seasonal farmers market held twice weekly at McClatchy Park.
Titherington, the market manager, visited farmers markets across California to determine the right format and vibe for Oak Park. “We figured that the only way we’re going to get people to show up is by having food and activities.” The Oak Park market accepts WIC and CalFresh benefits. “I really wanted us to lead the way and help level the playing field for people seeking access to fresh, healthy food,” she says.
Oak Park is a lot different today from when Titherington organized the community visioning session all those years ago. “We got our coffeehouses, we got our restaurants, we got a safer neighborhood, by and large,” she says. Her only regret is that not enough attention was paid to keeping housing affordable. But whatever changes come to Oak Park, Titherington hopes the market will endure. “People need to eat,” she says. “The only thing we’re passionate about is making sure that everyone has access to food.”
Oak Park Farmers Market at McClatchy Park
Saturdays 9 a.m.–1 p.m.,
Wednesdays 3–7 p.m.