SF farmers market moving to make room for skate park, other recreation installments

On September 3, the "Heart of the City" Farmers’ Market will be relocated from the United Nations Plaza to San Francisco’s Fulton Plaza, an area just across the street from the UN Plaza. 

But many members of the community who shop and live in the area are not happy about the city’s abrupt decision that many see as inconvenient for the farmers and customers. 

City officials, including the Recreation and Parks Department, are looking to change the space to discourage drug dealing and drug use in the plaza. 

The pilot program will replace the vast walkway in the plaza and install a skate park, fitness equipment, ping pong tables and other family-friendly installments. 

Those who depend on the bi-weekly farmers market are concerned about the forthcoming changes. 

The neighborhood has been considered an urban food desert for decades. 

It sits in the shadow of City Hall and just below the Tenderloin. More than 20,000 people on Sundays and Wednesdays shop for seasonal fresh fruits, vegetables and staples that are driven in by more than 50 California farmers. Many who travel for hours to sell their fruits and vegetables. 

Carol Jean Wisnieski has lived in the neighborhood for over 50 years and said, "I'm just in tears about it. I’ve been shopping here since even before it was certified as a farmers’ market. I'm devastated by this, and I think the public has not had time to respond to what's going on!"

Steve Pullium serves as the executive director, of the ‘Heart of the City Farmers’ Market’ 

He’s worked on-site for 14 years and has been a longtime customer prior to being hired. 

He shares that the move will be hard on many customers, but also on the farmers. 

He worries about those who come from far away and endure long days. They often need their trucks near their stalls for storage, to keep inventory cool and even to get rest after being on their feet all day.

"The biggest issue for the farmers is the space being smaller, and they won’t have access to their trucks," said Pullium.

"We still don't have water even though we're working on that," said Pullium. "The lighting is not as good over there, so when they come in at 4:30 in the morning we want to make sure that we have sufficient lighting for them to set up." 

As for the customers, Pullium shared some of the most vulnerable shoppers will be impacted with the move, as it’s farther from the BART station at Civic Center. 

"A lot of people will say, 'It's just right across the street.' But for customers with disabilities, there's a BART elevator down on the far end of this plaza. They'll have to go even further," he said. "We have several blind customers that come through that are afraid to cross that street. We'll take them around to all the vendors and help them shop, but now we have to maybe pick them up over here and walk them across the street. I'm not sure how we're going to manage to do that, but for some customers, it will. It will certainly have an impact."

San Francisco's Recreation and Park Department on Monday said the new space will not be a downsize from the current location and that the new spot will have enough room to accommodate the vendors. 

"The new site will include things like dedicated vendor and staff parking and increased parking enforcement to ensure spots are not taken by non-vendors," said Daniel Montes, SF Rec. and Park communications manager. "At the height of the season, the Heart of the City Farmers Market has 70 stalls, and its new location across the street can accommodate all of them."

But residents aren't sold on the change. Tenderloin resident David Elliott Lewis says the neighborhood doesn’t need ping pong as much as they need fresh fruits and vegetables. 

As co-chair of the Tenderloin People’s Congress, he worries about the farmers, the neighbors and the people that rely on this community for fresh produce. 

"The city has known we've been a food desert for a long time and doing this reinforced relocation and downsizing of the market is going to just perpetuate the food desert," he said. "We're going to lose vendors here; we're going to lose quality produce. Some of these vendors have been here 40 years."

Lewis handed out flyers announcing an organized rally and march from Civic Center plaza at 12:15 pm on Wednesday, Aug. 30. 

The group will march to City Hall where they’ll rally at 1 p.m. 

Their hope is to keep the farmers’ market right where it’s been for over 40 years. 

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect new statements from the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department.

Alice Wertz can be reached at Alice.Wertz@Fox.com or on Twitter/X @AlicesTake Instagram: @WayIseesIt