Healthy eating, a key behavior to prevent obesity, is made difficult, if not impossible, without access, availability, and knowledge of fresh foods. Research suggests that a lack of access and availability to food, as well as a lack of nutrition education, contribute to obesity, particularly in children.
HKHC sites around the country are addressing healthy eating through innovative farmers’ markets projects. These include mobile markets; acceptance of electronic benefit transfers (EBT) and Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) benefits; and family-oriented nutrition programming. These projects demonstrate markets’ potential to increase the availability of produce in food insecure areas. Utilization of programs like EBT, SNAP, WIC, and double bucks helps make farmers’ markets more affordable. Providing nutrition education to customers’ can improve their knowledge of healthy eating.
Grant County, New Mexico – Building Capacity of Local Farmers’ Markets
Back in 2009, the farmers’ market in Silver City, NM was well-established and looking for ways to improve their reach into the local community. The HKHC partnership recognized its potential to improve access to affordable produce in the community. Partners connected the market manager to additional vendors and assisted the market in accepting EBT benefits as a form of payment. Now the market is much larger and thriving. Currently it hosts 18-20 vendors, and 400-500 visitors per Saturday. Approximately ten sales per market day are with EBT, which is a 100% increase from the previous year.
The partnership also helped start two other markets in the communities of Mimbres and Bayard. The HKHC partnership provided resources to the market managers on best practices for organizing and promoting markets. They also worked with market managers to develop and implement their own business plans, which the managers presented to the Grant County Food Policy Council as well as their markets’ members.
These markets are all volunteer-run, relatively small but steadily growing. Mimbres started last year’s season with only 5 vendors, but ended the season with 15 vendors. Bayard started the season with two vendors, and ended with five. They both are outfitted to accept EBT, WIC, and senior farmers market checks. All three markets offer bonus tokens for EBT customers, which doubles the value of each dollar they spend.
All three markets provide nutrition education and host music events. The Silver City Market hosts a Farm to Chef Challenge, which has been well attended by market patrons and local restaurants. The HKHC partnership is currently evaluating what other features the markets can offer to bring in patrons and enhance a sense of community. Future plans for the market include sponsoring a Home and Garden show, continuing the Farm to Chef Challenge, exploring other market locations, and bringing in more value-added products.
There are many challenges to starting and growing farmers markets. First, making sure you have vendors when you have customers and customers when you have vendors. Addition challenges include making a sustainable plan that includes a paid market manager, recruiting new producers, and hosting special events. According to Alicia Edwards, executive director of The Volunteer Center, a community partner of the HKHC grant, “In the end, a farmers market is a huge part of a viable, vital community and well worth the effort.”
Rancho Cucamonga, California – Passing a Zoning Ordinance to Allow Farmers’ Markets
The City of Rancho Cucamonga is leading the effort to make healthy affordable food available to community members, particularly to those who need it most. The Rancho Cucamonga HKHC partnership team discovered that farmers’ markets were not zoned in the southwest area of Cucamonga – the area with the least amount of access to healthy eating and active living opportunities. The team realized that an amendment to the city’s development code was needed to improve food security in this neighborhood.
The HKHC partnership developed a farmers’ market subcommittee made up of community residents and city leaders. They interviewed market managers and conducted site visits at markets in nearby cities. They connected over the phone with other HKHC sites in Columbia, Missouri, and Portland, Oregon, who shared their work with farmers’ markets. To ensure that future farmer’s market sites accurately reflect community desires and needs, the partnership conducted focus groups with residents of this community. These primarily Spanish-speaking residents identified access and cost as the two main barriers to buying healthy food.
The information gathered during this research laid the groundwork for a development code amendment requiring City Council approval. This ordinance would increase areas of the city zoned for farmer’s markets (including southwest Cucamonga), develop a minimum criteria for what is to be sold at farmers’ markets (at least 75% of items sold must be produce or value-added products), and minimize Temporary Use Permit requirements for farmer’s markets. Subcommittee members representing community-based organizations and local residents voiced their opinions in support of the ordinance. Ultimately, the City Council unanimously passed the ordinance.
Passage of this ordinance has led to the development of two new farmer’s markets in the city (making three total markets), helping increase residents’ access to healthy and locally-grown produce. In response to residents’ concerns about cost, the partnership received a grant from Inland Empire United Way to offer all residents of southwest Cucamonga a $50 match for purchases at a local farmers’ markets. To receive this incentive, local residents must attend an interactive workshop where families learn more about the benefits of healthy cooking and how to make a budget for buying healthy foods with limited resources. Cucamonga farmers’ markets have seen an overall increase of sales and a greater number of southwest Cucamonga residents than in previous years.
The partnership is currently undertaking an extensive evaluation of the farmer’s market ordinance through resident focus groups, interactive customer surveys, and interviews with market managers and farmers. As for any early findings, Ruben Brambila, HKHC project manager, says, “People are very receptive to the farmers’ market, and they’re happy about it.”
Somerville, Massachusetts – A Mobile Market to Improve Food Access and Build Community
Beginning in June 2011, the HKHC partnership in Somerville launched a mobile market at the Mystic Housing Development, the largest of several public housing developments around the city. Mystic is situated in an area where fresh, healthy produce is scarce. The market partnered with Massachusetts-based Enterprise Farm, who agreed to sell its produce at wholesale, thus allowing the market to offer fruits and vegetables at prices that are comparable with the most affordable supermarket in the city. The partnership also secured funding to be able to provide match money to EBT/SNAP and WIC payments, as well as to any individual or family living in the Mystic Housing Development.
The market truck is situated near a playground and is outfitted with a sound system so that it can play music, allowing it to become a safe and positive gathering spot for families. The market has also spurred “grown in Somerville” produce sales with youth from the development, who sell vegetables and herbs that they have grown in their community gardens.
According to Rachael Plitch, Shape Up Somerville Coordinator, “with a consistent presence of children at each market day, a strong educational component developed.” Farmers and market staff provide age-appropriate nutrition information to all children in attendance, introducing children and youth to new vegetables and recipes, encouraging family-focused meal preparation and consumption.
In 2012 the market plans to expand the season from 12 to 28 weeks by launching a winter model of the market to keep it going as a year-long program. In addition the partnership is scaling up its work by situating a produce van in Somerville to create a local distribution model. This will allow them to continue situating the market at the Mystic Housing Development, as well as adding three new sites: the Clarendon Hill Housing Development, a to-be-determined location in East Somerville, and the Somerville Council on Aging activity center.
Plitch says that the people who shop at the market are more knowledgeable about the benefits of eating fresh, local produce due to increased awareness in the media. The issue is that there is a lack of access to this kind of food in their neighborhood. Plitch says that people at Mystic are grateful for the increased access allowed by the mobile market, both physically by having the market right outside their doors, and for the competitive price of the high quality produce.
Spartanburg County, South Carolina – Addressing Food Insecurity in Urban and Rural Communities
Spartanburg County is home to over 200,000 residents among seven towns and 17 unincorporated communities. As part of the HKHC grant initiative, two organizations, Partners for Active Living and Hub City Farmers’ Market, are working in four areas of the county: two rural towns, an unincorporated suburban community in the county, and an underserved urban neighborhood in the city of Spartanburg.
Hub City Farmers’ Market is a nonprofit organization that works to improve access to fresh, affordable local food in Spartanburg County. They manage two farmers’ markets around the county throughout the spring, summer, and fall. They work with community organizations to build gardens at schools, recreation centers, parks, and senior centers all over the county. They also provide training and support for local farmers.
The Mobile Market is an initiative of the HKHC partnership and managed by Hub City Farmers’ Market. The project was a result of meetings with local residents in the Northside neighborhood about local food security issues. The community voiced that they wanted a market catered to their needs and to be able to take ownership over it. A van was refurbished to be able to sell produce, and for a one-month pilot period, the van visited a local park, a subsidized housing complex, an elementary school, and a church in the neighborhood. Since its inception, the Mobile Market has helped to create awareness about the need for healthier food options and to support future food security initiatives in the Northside neighborhood, including a Northside Food Hub that will be unveiled in 2013.
During the spring, summer, and fall of 2011, the partnership expanded the Mobile Market schedule to include the communities of Boiling Springs, Pacolet, and Woodruff. The market continued to visit many different locations in order to find the most strategic place. In 2012 the market will still be traveling to different places, but it will also spend three to four days each week in the Woodruff community. The hope is to see how this initiative can meet the real need of food security in this area.
Rochelle Williams, community mobilizing coordinator for the HKHC Partnership, says it’s important to think critically about marketing strategies for mobile markets project. This includes how to let people know what the market offers and how they can access it. Williams says involving organizational partners and community members in every stage of the project is a great way to accomplish outreach and promotion by ensuring the market is accessible.
Farmers’ markets are emerging as a means of addressing healthy eating. HKHC partnerships are involving their communities in the planning, advocacy, implementation, and evaluation of markets. Some successful ways in which these sites are making farmers’ markets more accessible to people living on limited means include allowing EBT, SNAP, and WIC vouchers/coupons to be used as payment; deciding on a location with local community members to fit their needs; and utilizing community partners to promote the market. Markets that provide some kind of family-friendly programming and are situated in a safe location help cultivate a sense of community. Mobile farmers’ markets are an innovative way to address healthy eating in both rural and urban areas. In addition to providing a healthy food outlet, mobile markets can be used to gauge community interest and test the waters for a future, permanent farmers’ market.
Other HKHC sites working on farmers’ markets:
Feeding America (http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/impact-of-hunger.aspx)
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (http://www.rwjf.org/childhoodobesity/product.jsp?id=62668)
United States Department of Agriculture (http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/eib56/)