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Giving Back To The Community At The Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market

The Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market has a long history of providing a space and common ground for community members to come together dating back to its beginning in 1983.  While it has grown into a much larger event, at the core of The Market is a foundation built upon giving something back to the San Luis Obispo community that goes far beyond just providing a good time and delicious food.  There are programs in existence and new upcoming programs that will broaden this positive impact for our community members here in SLO. 

Many of us strolling down Higuera Street on Thursday nights may never notice the volunteer “Gleaners” stopping by farmers’ booths to collect buckets of fresh produce.  These dedicated volunteers are a part of GleanSLO, a program with The Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County.   GleanSLO grew from a group of community members coming together in 2010 in search of sharing the amazing bounty here in SLO County.  This grassroots effort evolved into a formal program of the Food Bank creating an infrastructure to expand their gleaning yields and broaden their reach. Gleaned produce is distributed throughout the county via an assortment of Food Bank programs including children and senior farmers’ markets, as well as Food Bank agency partners.  In August of 2012, a partnership was formed with the Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market along with SLO County Farmers’ Market Association allowing GleanSLO volunteers to collect produce from farmers for distribution the following day at Salvation Army. 

Since this collaboration in 2012, the GleanSLO volunteers have collected more than 43,000 pounds of fresh produce from Thursday night market alone. Watching the interaction of giving that takes place between volunteers and the dedicated farmers is a wonderful representation of how generosity can be channeled to give back to the community.

In addition, SLO Downtown Association is working with the SLO Farmers’ Market Association to roll out plans to promote and accept EBT, also known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) or CalFresh, at The Market. EBT is currently accepted at select farmers markets in an effort to promote greater access to fresh, healthy food.  Visitors who have EBT benefits will be able to use their EBT cards to get tokens that can be used to purchase fresh food from the Certified Farmers’ Market section beginning at Osos Street along Higuera to our new “Fresh Harvest” expansion section on Chorro Street. Coinciding with this development, The San Luis Obispo Department of Social Services will be out at the Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market every other week to help residents learn about eligibility criteria and complete an application at their booth.  There has also been collaboration with non-profits and colleges to help eligible SLO residents sign up for CalFresh.  This effort aims to raise awareness around the resources available to tackle hunger in our community and encourage those who already have CalFresh to apply their benefits towards the many healthy offerings available at the Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market.

Along with these programs, one of my favorite aspects of The Market is seeing people at their best.  Watching kids light up when they see Downtown Brown, vendors who are long time friends trading their tasty offerings and of course seeing a sea of smiling faces fill the streets of Downtown. If you have not had a chance to get out to one of the Fresh Picked Concerts presented by The San Luis Obispo Collection, the next performance will be on June 2nd at 6:30 PM with Box the Oxford taking the Harvest Stage in the Union Bank parking lot (995 Higuera Street).  The last two concerts have been a blast and offer a great space for visitors of all ages to come out and show off their dance moves.  As always, you are guaranteed some delicious food and good times that will continue to inspire you to Discover Local Flavor.

Written by Kristin McMaster, Special Projects Coordinator, San Luis Obispo Downtown Association

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Bret Colhouer