Let’s get right to it: according to a recent study by CareerBuilder, 80% of American families live paycheck to paycheck. Take a moment to let that sink in. 80%! That’s 4 in 5 Americans worrying about paying their next monthly bill. That’s 4 in 5 Americans struggling to put food on the table. In the same study, researchers found that 71% of all workers are living with debt, and a staggering 56% think they will never be able to live debt free. So, it’s not surprising that the face of hunger is changing.
There is an increasing portion of the population that falls in a sort of no man’s land when it comes to hunger: they make just enough to not qualify for food stamps or other government programs, but they don’t make enough to comfortably feed their family every night. The prevalence of this population is what led to the Simi Valley Free Farmers Market.
You’re probably thinking, free farmers market? Yeah right. Nothing is actually free. What’s the catch?
Well, there is none! We promise. The Simi Valley Free Farmers Market grew as an offshoot of the Simi Valley Community Garden—also known as Simi at the Garden. And the farmers market is as wonderful as it sounds; there’s no fine print, no strings attached, just fresh, free food.
Once a month, residents flock from every corner of Ventura County to attend the Simi Valley Free Farmers Market, and all of them can leave their wallets at home. Most of the food is donated from the LA-based food recovery and reclamation organization Food Forward, whose partnership with Simi at the Garden enabled the free farmers market in the first place. Other food provided is grown right at the Simi at the Garden’s “Sharity Garden,” which is a ½ acre agricultural plot tended by the garden’s members and volunteers.
The concept of the free farmers market stemmed from the success of Simi at the Garden’s other programs like the Sharity Garden and Social Feed. Then once Food Forward got involved, that dream became a reality. “Now we’re able to give away upwards of 30,000 pounds of produce a month,” says Robbie Hidalgo, the Vice President of the Simi Valley Community Garden and the Executive Director of Social Feed, “and we think that we’ve served well over 10,000 individuals who are confronted with hunger on a daily basis.”
So who attends the Simi Valley Free Farmers Market? Turns out, everyone! Seniors, single mothers, children, the developmentally disabled, and the list goes on. All are welcome at the free farmers market, even you! The best way to contribute to the program is by volunteering. “Participation will make the difference,” says Hidalgo.
The Free Farmers Market is just one of the many amazing projects growing from the Simi Valley Community Garden to address the hunger gap in Ventura County and beyond. They will continue to ask, “What can we do beyond the community garden fence to serve the community?” Hidalgo insists that, “community gardens in general can serve bigger purposes in their community,” and he can proudly point to programs like the Simi Valley Free Farmers Market as proof.
Also published on Medium.