El Cajon, California
The farmers market is sponsored and operated by the El Cajon Community Development Corporation. El Cajon CDC partners with International Rescue Committee San Diego Micro-enterprise Program to provide the low-income, ethnically diverse populations of East San Diego and El Cajon with many resources and services. They also assist low-income refugee and immigrant entrepreneurs to open new businesses. Leveraging the existing commercial kitchen operated by the CDC to generate new food-based micro-enterprises. This project was made possible in part by the USDA 2004 grant that helped their sophisticated nutrition and micro-enterprise program get off the ground. Additionally, refugee and low income entrepreneurs enrolled in the entrepreneurship program receive preferential access to market vending booths, comprehensive small business training classes, reduced vendor fees, access to the certified commercial kitchen, cash assistance and micro loans (if eligible).
El Cajon Marketplace brings fresh food and fresh business opportunities to this region of southern California. On any given Thursday afternoon year-round the El Cajon farmers market has 25-30 vendor stalls set up. Many are farmers, but many are also prepared food vendors and a few are crafters. The farmers accept Food Stamps, WIC and Senior Coupons. The result is a diverse market of vendors, customers and products, which includes everything from empanadas to Persian desserts.
The strength of the market is twofold. The food business incubator program is nested within the market providing new opportunities for marginalized people, while vendors accepting all the government nutrition program coupons allows for an economically diverse customer base.