Farmers’ Market, Food Bank Partner To Combat Food Insecurity

The Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona and the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market are partnering to aid Tucson’s “food-insecure” families, under the philosophy that Tucsonans who are struggling financially shouldn’t be denied access to healthy food because they’re unable to afford it.

Cholla cactus flowers during spring months and their buds can be easily consumed once properly pruned.
Cholla cactus flowers during spring months and their buds can be easily consumed once properly pruned.

Food-insecure areas have limited or no access to a sufficient amount of healthy and nutritious foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We’re really trying, through the farmers’ market, to allow people to have better access to fresh food,” says Heather Ellison, markets manager at the Community Food Bank. “Because we are run by the food bank obviously our mission is a little different than a typical farmers’ market might be.”

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Amy Schwemm of Mano Y Metate demonstrates how to cook cactus creatively using southwestern ingredients.

The farmers’ market, located at 100 S. Avenida del Convento in the Menlo Park Neighborhood, runs every Thursday from 3 to 6 p.m. October through April, and from 4 to 7 p.m. May through September. Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market is one of four community food banks associated with non-profit farmers’ markets in Tucson.

The food bank provides assistance by granting vouchers that can be exchanged for locally grown produce. Ellison says their partnerships with health clinics, such El Rio Community Health Center, allows them to distribute coupons that can then be used at the market, especially by families who are enrolled in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) or Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs.

This commitment to community service is reflected in the market’s prices to some degree.

“Here we try to keep the prices as low as we can, but we have to honor the work that goes into making the food and support the farmers who are trying to make a living themselves,” Ellison says.

Along with providing the community with healthy groceries, the market showcases cooking demonstrations with Southwestern ingredients and helps visitors learn how to stretch their dollar so that shopping at the market is not much more expensive than a trip to the average grocery store, Ellison says.

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In season vegetables such as beets, carrots and spring onions are one of the many items available at the Santa Cruz River Farmer’s Market.

When talking about making food native to the Southwest using cholla buds, Amy Schwemm of Mano y Metate says, “You can make a stew out of them, roast chili or a mole is my favorite way to prepare them. Cholla buds have that same texture of nopalitos [prickly pear cactus] and they’re super high in calcium.” Mono Y Metate is a business where Schwemm makes and sells freshly ground mole powder to be made into a variety of sauces. 

Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market also permits local gardeners to sell their produce on-site and also brings in local business to el Mercado San Augustin Plaza. La Estrella Bakery is a family-owned company located inside the plaza that creates Mexican pastries, breads and many other items that market patrons can enjoy.

Ellison says positive results are coming out of the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market thanks to socially-active members who are trying to better the Tucson community but notes that there is always more work to do.

“The line at the food bank is still there, and we’d like to make it shorter.”

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Santa Cruz River Farmer’s Market

Address: 100 S. Avenida del Convento

Phone Number: 520-622-0525

Hours of Operation

Thursdays, 3 p.m. -6 p.m.

October-April 4 p.m. -7 p.m.

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