By Vanessa Serpas
Photos by Gabriella Gamboa
Something new and positive is flowering along San Francisco’s Third Street and into the eastside Bayview District. Liquor store shelves, once jam-packed with unhealthy junk food, now house fresh produce as well. Supermarkets offer healthier eating choices than they did a couple years ago and families have been responding by clearing shelves.
A community once ostracized from the rest of the city, as a low-income, industrial meat-packing area, is slowly beginning to thrive with a new interest in providing fresh fruit and vegetables to its residents and with community support and the help of local officials and organizations.
While negative media perceptions of the Bayview may be difficult to shed among those living outside the neighborhood, many residents have aligned to transform their environment and are fostering and promoting positive activities in the community.
One of the crucial issues for Bayview residents has long been easier accessibility to fresh produce in the neighborhood. Many people in the community have to rely on public transportation to bring home groceries — and that’s not easy. Only one new grocery store has opened in the last two decades — Fresh & Easy, 5800 Third St., in August 2011.
Jeffrey Betcher’s goal is that residents will come together to “create structural and sustainable change” within the community, naturally leading to healthier eating and lifestyles. As the executive director of the Quesada Gardens Initiative, Betcher oversees 35 active garden projects in the neighborhood, some of which are strictly for vegetable and fruit production.
Although residents support his process, sustaining the gardens is a struggle. “A barrier to do this kind of work is getting permission,” says Betcher, and with the possible impending loss of the recently opened Fresh & Easy, he believes it is more crucial than ever for this kind of work to continue.
While people in the district continue to work diligently to promote healthy eating, some feel the message is not loud enough.
Charles Price, a native of the Bayview, believes health education and the explanation of fresh food benefits is vital. “If we knew how good it was for you and the benefits then we would start buying more fruit.”
Mary Rucker, Program Intern at the 3rd Street Youth Center and Clinic has been providing health education in the clinic and feels personally impacted by these efforts. “The clinic makes an effort to have vegetables and fruit accessible at all times,” she says. “Even though McDonald’s is right here, I’d rather eat fruit.”
Rucker is also part of an organization known as the Nutrition Soldiers, which began last fall. Its goal is to promote and advertise healthy living throughout the neighborhood. According to Rucker, one of their goals is to erect a billboard so the message gets to everyone.
Meanwhile, fresh produce is on display outside of smaller markets and businesses, like the Aguila de Oro Taqueria and Market on the corner of Third Street and Thomas Avenue. Lee’s Food Market, a liquor store, at Revere Avenue and Jennings Street has added a section for fresh produce at the entrance of the store.
Yvonne Hines appreciates the effort to improve food choices but believes the quality of produce shipped to the neighborhood is low quality. Hines, owner of Yvonne’s Southern Sweets at 5128 Third St., says, “there is a big difference between the produce on Folsom Street and what we have here, we get the discarded produce.”
In the past, liquor stores flaunting advertisements for tobacco and alcohol prevailed in comparison to grocery stores. Yet, through the consistent community efforts, the dominance of liquor stores is gradually diminishing.
A survey a few years ago by the Bayview Hunters Point Project Area Committee revealed, “the number one thing residents wanted was more supermarkets.”
Grocery stores like Super Save Market, 4517 Third St., working with the Good Neighbor Project—which creates voluntary agreements that stores devote 10 percent of inventory to fresh produce and another 10 to 20 percent to other healthy foods—have increased the fresh produce section in the market.
The Southeast Food Access Workgroup – a neighborhood organization that works with businesses in the community to ensure healthy, fresh, sustainable, and affordable produce is available to the Bayview – recently did a study of the Super Save Market. The study showed that total sales of alcohol dropped 41 percent and produce increased 16 percent as of 2010.
La Shea Sanchez, a local resident and the healthy cooking instructor at the Bayview Opera House believes the neighborhood “is changing.” Sanchez recognizes that “most of the kids don’t know where their food is coming from and now they get to see the whole food process.”
California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which tracks liquor-license holders, reports the Bayview’s 94124 zip code went from 18 liquor-license holders in 2011 to 21 license holders in 2013, an increase of about 14 percent.
Lt. Julian Ng of SFPD’s Bayview Station, says the “Mendell Plaza at Third and Oakdale, is a problem area” with continual public intoxication, but he has “absolutely seen a change” in the neighborhood with the opening of new businesses, condos and efforts from the community.
Naif Talal Jaber, owner of Lee’s Food Market, worked with the Food Guardians in July 2012 to redesign his store for the addition of fresh produce. “Although I was initially nervous to make the change, the redesign has been better for business and the community,” he says. This proved true when he sold out of fresh produce the first week.
Jaber says he has “always wanted to have something healthy in the store” and is glad to see that “more families and women come to the store now to buy fruits and veggies.”
Efforts similar to these continue to pop up throughout the neighborhood. Businesses such as the Bayview Opera House and the 3rd Street Youth Center and Clinic have taken to providing educational cooking classes for youth and see the benefits.
Despite its struggles, the Bayview continues to thrive, slicing away at its longtime harsh reputation with small but continually positive steps. Residents and community organizations have made a solid effort to instill the concept of healthy living and supporting community residents—and it is evident. The residents have stood together and created forward-thinking change impacting nearly everyone from children to seniors.