Right in Our Back Yards!

Children reading at the market

Children reading at the market

Sometimes, if I’ve listened to too many news reports, read a news magazine cover to cover or had a political discussion with a friend, I find myself feeling pretty pessimistic about the state of the world. Looking at huge problems like the war in Syria or climate change or the inability of Congress to get anything of importance accomplished, it’s easy to feel that we the people are powerless to make a difference.   We sometimes need a reminder of all the goodness in the world and all the people who are getting along with one another, working in their small corner to impact these seemingly immense problems.   My husband Roger and I found just such a reminder last Saturday morning.

We decided to visit our favorite farmers’ market in San Diego in an area called City Heights, where many refugees have been resettled, and we exchanged happy glances as we drove down University Avenue towards the market. This main thoroughfare looks like a United Nations of retail shops: Vietnamese and Eritrean restaurants, Mexican shoe repair, Somali grocery markets, professional services from around the world. It was bustling with energy on this sunny morning.

The market is a block off of University Avenue and stretches for just one block, but it is packed full of the bounty of autumn. It also offers an assortment of services from local non-profit organizations. Our first stop was at a small booth advertising bike repair instruction, where a young man was patiently showing a child of about 10 how to adjust his brakes as others waited with their bikes. The young men working there were all volunteers.

Booth for eatcityheights.org

Booth for eatcityheights.org

Next door to them was a booth, also run by young twenty-somethings, whose poster announced that eat.cityheights.org is “committed to investing in our community, concerned with food security and our local foodshed.” Boxes of veggies included greens, beets, tomatoes and carrots this week. The boxes had to be ordered a week in advance and were available on a sliding scale for between $10 and $20. These young people picked up the produce from local farms and brought it to the market early each Saturday.

Across the way were booths run by farmers from local gardens provided by the International Rescue Committee*: a large piece of land divided into 65 plots and supplied with water where refugees grow their own produce. At one booth we picked up Swiss chard and chunky carrots and joked with the four young Somali vendors, daughters of the farmer, a wonderfully good-natured woman we had met on a previous visit. The next booth was shared by a Nepali-speaking Bhutanese couple and an Afghan man who were selling a small assortment of greens, carrots and marigolds. When we showed interest not only in their vegetables, but also in their lives, they eagerly shared a few stories with us. A tempting fragrance wafted from the lively booth across from them, where Somali women were cooking up those greens with lentils and rice to sell for lunch as they laughed with their customers.

Nepali/Bhutanese couple

Nepali/Bhutanese couple

Down the way a bit, we encountered a booth whose products we recognized easily: small, round eggplants for curry, mint, basil and other less identifiable herbs for the zesty salads served in Laos, Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia. Roger, who speaks some Lao, commented on the lovely array, and the farmer beamed with delight, jumping out of his truck to come chat. While he and Roger joked in Lao, I met a young Brazilian post-grad student in nutrition who was visiting the market with her English teacher to identify new and interesting fresh foods. She was almost euphoric as she described her experience studying English and living with an American family in the area.

Our bags were growing heavy by now with added apples, guavas and peaches. As we headed out of the market, we passed one more irresistible open-sided tent with children sitting on the ground, totally immersed in books. This booth provided books and a place for kids to read and share stories. It was run by the daughter of the English teacher I had just met, who had gathered a large number of donated books. Each Saturday children had the opportunity to experience the joy of reading in their free time, and they were doing just that.

Somali shoppers

Somali shoppers

The loveliness of that morning stayed with Roger and me all weekend and inspired this blog a week later. We’re taking friends back there this coming weekend. It was a much-needed reminder that people care—about one another, no matter our different backgrounds, about the suffering in the world, about our embattled environment–and that so many of those people are young and very committed. It was also a reminder of the courage and resilience of refugees, as well as the way this country embraces them and provides a new beginning. While the global picture can be overwhelming, the local picture can bring hope and inspiration to get out there and support all that’s happening in our back yards!

*See www.rescue.org for more information about International Rescue Committee.


  1. When was the last time you saw signs of hope in your community?
  2. Discuss at least five reasons why a local food supply is necessary and beneficial.
  3. What non-profit organizations exist in your community? What kinds of services does your community still need?
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