The Pajaro Valley is a thriving agricultural hub, surrounded by farms and fields growing food for people all over the world.
But according to the Community Health Trust (CHT) of Pajaro Valley, certain areas of the region are still considered “food deserts,” where people have limited access to healthy and affordable food.
This is despite the fact many live within a few yards of a farm, or work at one.
“We live in a very abundant area, surrounded by fresh, healthy produce,” said DeAndre James, executive director for CHT, “but the truth is, many residents and families do not have easy access to these.”
This is why the CHT, along with numerous sponsors and partners, decided to open a new farmers market in Watsonville. Located in the front parking lot of Ramsay Park, adjacent to the Family Center and across from Sotomayor Soccer Field, the El Mercado Farmers Market offers fresh produce, healthy prepared food and drinks, community resources and more. It will be open every Tuesday, 2-6pm, through Oct. 26.
Program Manager for El Mercado Annie Puckett said that the idea for the market came from talks between CHT and Second Harvest Food Bank in 2018. A joint council of the two organizations, called the Food, Farming and Health Policy Council, were looking for ways to improve the local food system and more easily provide healthy food to the community.
Puckett said that they originally planned to open the market last year but things were halted due to the pandemic. However, the delay did allow them to prepare better and make the weekly event as accessible and health-conscious as possible.
“It gave us more time to think carefully, work things out,” Puckett said. “We are super excited to finally be opening things up.”
The market will not only provide produce, but also make available health screenings and resources, and act as a redemption site for CHT’s prescription food program, Veggie Rx. The program offers residents $20 vouchers to redeem at the market.
Once more Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, organizers hope to also hold live cooking demonstrations, giving people recipes and a chance to buy ingredients at nearby booths.
“We are a health and wellness organization, so it’s imperative that we make sure the market is a safe, positive space for people to enjoy,” said Nelly B. Otsu, marketing and communication manager for CHT. “Not only are they getting healthy food here, it’s also giving them a place to be social in a safe way.”
Watsonville City Councilman Francisco Estrada, who is also part of the development department at CHT, said that trying to identify a location for the market had at first been a challenge. They initially were looking to hold it in a parking lot across from the Watsonville Community Hospital. Then the city suggested Ramsay Park.
“After a few discussions, we realized this would be a perfect place,” Estrada said.
To put the market together, CHT and the city worked with Jesus Madrigal, manager of the Watsonville Farmers Market (held downtown every Friday). They also received a two-year grant from the Central California Alliance for Health (CCAH) to help support basic operations. Live Earth Farm and the Farm Discovery Program came on board as sponsors to supply produce for Veggie Rx.
As the market came alive Tuesday, residents wandered over and began purchasing produce from Rodriguez Farms and lining up for a baked potato at Ivan’s Potatoes. Vendors like Monterey Bay Murals opened for business. CCAH offered guests health information, and a handful of nonprofits were also present.
Watsonville Wetlands Watch was one such organization, selling small potted plants and also offering free fruit and shade trees, which executive director Jonathan Pilch says is part of a new phase of the city’s Urban Forest Revitalization Project.
Additional sponsors of El Mercado Farmers Market include Kaiser Permanente, Granite Construction Company, Lakeside Organic Gardens, Salud Para La Gente, Santa Cruz County Bank, California Giant Berry Company, Driscoll’s and 99.9FM KDUB.
Estrada said as the Covid-19 situation improves, he hopes more and more people will come check out the market.
“It’s pretty exciting. We really hope the community enjoys it,” Estrada said.
For more information visit pvhealthtrust.org/elmercado.