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Calif. ag secretary connects with San Francisco-based produce businesses

The SF Market, a wholesale produce market that is home to 26 merchant businesses in the heart of San Francisco, welcomed California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross on May 20. She took a tour that showcased the critical fresh food infrastructure that The SF Market has provided for San Francisco, the Bay Area, and California businesses since 1963.

Secretary Ross was joined by Natalie Krout-Greenberg, CDFA’s director for the division of inspection services; Joshua W. Bingham, CDFA’s public information officer II; Senator Scott Wiener and his staff; Eli Zigas, president of The SF Market board of directors; and David Lea, a member of The SF Market board of directors, on an early morning tour led by Michael Janis, general manager of The SF Market.

The attendees engaged with several of The SF Market’s 26 merchant businesses, some of which have been family-run for more than three generations. The secretary was able to see the market’s award-winning food recovery program in operation and gain an understanding of some of The SF Market’s key needs in order to continue serving the city and region.

Beyond its central role in the local food business community, The SF Market is deeply committed to the health and sustainability of the broader food system. The Market’s food recovery program, which has been in operation since 2016, is an example of this commitment in action. Program staff work with The SF Market’s merchants to recover an average of 4,000 pounds of surplus food per day and distribute it to community organizations at the front lines of the region’s food security challenges. To date, the program is rapidly approaching a milestone of 7 million pounds of nutritious, quality produce distributed to neighbors in need, filling a critical gap in the food access landscape in San Francisco and beyond.

“The SF Market is an incredible resource for the state of California and a critical part of our fresh food supply chain,” said Secretary Ross. “It is amazing to see The SF Market and all the merchant businesses in their work to improve access to the agricultural bounty of our state for all California citizens.”

Secretary Ross has been a longtime advocate and leader on agriculture issues, addressing urgent issues from climate change adaption, to domestic and international trade. She has also led programs to provide greater opportunities for farmers and ranchers to engage in sustainable environmental stewardship as well as provide greater access to farm-fresh foods in school cafeterias through CDFA’s Farm to Fork program. Prior to her current appointment, Secretary Ross served as the chief of staff to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“We are honored to welcome these outstanding leaders from the CDFA,” said Zigas. “Our organization represents so much more than just produce. It provides the connection between rural farmers and urban consumers in California and provides the infrastructure, programs, and relationships that help hundreds of farmers grow their businesses within the (San Francisco) Bay area. Continuing the dialogue with Secretary Ross brings much promise and an opportunity to expand what we’ve already accomplished.”

Photo: California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross, joined by Senator Scott Wiener, Joshua W. Bingham, CDFA’s public information officer II, and Natalie Krout-Greenberg, CDFA’s director for the division of inspection services, met with Lisa Balestra (far left), co-owner of S&L Produce, inside The SF Market in San Francisco.

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