Sacramento nonprofit excels at managing farmers markets

Midtown Sacramento Farmers Market

The Midtown Farmers Market.

Management and organization of Certified Farmers Markets can be a challenge, but one Sacramento nonprofit has developed a successful model that’s being replicated all over town.

BeMoneySmartUSA — an organization started in 2009 to provide free financial literacy education to youth — stumbled upon a happy partnership that is driving customers to local businesses, preparing young people for jobs, bringing farm-fresh foods to consumers, all while supporting the nonprofit financially.

About the time BeMoneySmartUSA was founded, Executive Director Marie Hall, an avid farmers market-goer herself, noticed a location that would be great for a market. But securing a stable core of high-quality vendors was a challenge, as many of them were small or women-run farms that didn’t have the resources to truck in their goods, unload, set up their stands, then break down at the end of the day.

So Marie and husband Don started bringing some of the kids in their financial classes to the market to help as part of their community service requirement.

“Before you know it, we saw that the kids were happy, enjoying the air and exposed to the quintessential entrepreneur: salt-of-the-earth farmers. We had a lot of students who were willing to help out in that environment,” Hall says. “So we thought, what a great opportunity.”

BeMoneySmartUSA is now self-funded through the rents received from vendors. In return, the organization provides farmers with a unique labor resource. Students receive training to help them develop job skills in the areas of customer service, safety, problem-solving, effective interpersonal relations — such as looking people in the eye, being receptive, articulate, and helpful. Students who complete prerequisite classes qualify to apply for paid jobs with the farmers, and each paycheck comes with built-in financial planning and support for investing and spending those hard-earned dollars.

Michael, a 17-year-old student I spoke with as he worked at the Midtown and the Fair Oaks Sunset markets, says that working closely with one of the vendors helped him learn how to speak to customers and step out of his comfort zone. “I’m also a lot better with my money than I was before,” he says.

The farmers, in turn, benefit from a custom-trained work force they can call upon as needed, with all of the workers compensation expenses and necessary taxes handled by BeMoneySmartUSA’s Rent-a-Teen program.

The formula works

Over time, BeMoneySmartUSA developed a “formula” for its markets that includes cooking demonstrations and tastings, live music, fresh organic produce, specialty foods, crafters, activities for kids and rest areas to create a better experience for customers. They’ve also untangled the web of governmental requirements and permits: “We’ve figured out the Sacramento way,” Marie says.

Now local business associations approach the nonprofit about starting up a farmers market in their area, Marie says. Area businesses benefit from the extra foot traffic, live musicians get extra work during idle hours that promote their evening performances, youth get jobs, and more communities get convenient access to delicious foods. Each vendor also donates food to local charities, amounting to 500-1,000 pounds of food each weekend, Marie says.

Special activities, such as produce tastings and contests, chef demonstrations rotate among the eight markets BeMoneySmartUSA currently operates in Sacramento, with more to come.

Each market accepts EBT and WIC payments and operates rain or shine. Here’s the current lineup:

Sunrise Mall, Citrus Heights – Saturdays 8 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Located southeast of the Sears building in the parking lot of Sunrise Mall, about 6196 Sunrise Blvd. at the corner of Greenback Lane.

Historic Folsom, Public Plaza – Saturdays 8 a.m. – 1 p.m.
More than 55 vendors set up at 900 Sutter Street in Folsom — a great stop for bike riders, families and pets. Park on the streets surrounding the plaza or in the Folsom Station parking garage.

Carmichael Park – Sunday, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
This pleasant park setting at 5750 Grant Avenue in the heart of Carmichael offers more than 75 certified and organic farmers and specialty item vendors.

Mather VA Hospital – Wednesday, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
A cozy 15 or so vendors sets up seasonally, March to December, at 10535 Hospital Way in Mather (near Rancho Cordova).

Fair Oaks Sunset – Wednesday, 3-7 p.m.
This seasonal location (April 23 – October) at 8101 Sunset Avenue (on the corner of Fair Oaks Blvd.) with more than 20 vendors is a great place to stop after work or walk from home for a few fresh favorites. Plenty of parking.

UC Davis Health System Sacramento – Thursday, 3- 7:30 p.m.
This mid-week market serves the community from April through November 14. Located at 45th and Y Streets near Stockton Blvd. Free parking in the Shriner Hospital parking garage.

Sac Unity – Saturday, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m.
This market at 9249 Folsom Blvd. is open every Saturday year round from 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. It’s the newest market of the bunch, with about 20 vendors and lots of free parking. And this one fills a real need for fresh fruits and vegetables; it’s in a “food desert” with no grocery stores nearby.

Land Park market – Sunday, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.


Kristi Garrett

Kristi Garrett is the Publisher, Editor and Chief Veggie Enthusiast of Little Green Wheelbarrow. After 16 years in journalism and corporate communications, she figures it's time to get some dirt under her nails.

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