Oliver Baron harvests Swiss chard at the Common Good City Farm in LeDroit Park. Until recently, many farmers markets were accessible only to those with good salaries, or at least enough disposable income to pay a premium for a bunch of emerald-hued leafy greens.
The discourse about what we eat is changing across the country. More and more, people want to know where their food comes from, what’s in it and who produces it, and local farmers markets are stepping up to meet such demands.
Until recently, this discourse has largely excluded many low-income families who could barely afford rent, let alone artisanal ingredients. Many farmers markets were accessible only to those with good salaries, or at least enough disposable income to pay a premium for a bunch of emerald-hued leafy greens. And even the nascent discussion about those disparities left out a key element — the growers.
“So much emphasis has been placed on the difficulty for the consumer affording local and sustainable food. Meanwhile, the small American farmer has been marginalized by the increasing consolidation of agriculture and very limited access to markets that pay him/her fairly for their work,” said Ann Harvey Yonkers, co-executive director of FreshFarm Markets. “We are addicted to cheap food in the USA in an odd way,” she said. “We do not complain at the price of a bag of chips, even though each chip in that bag is very expensive. But people can get critical if a farmer raises the price of her potatoes at market by 15 or 20 cents per pound.”
On the outset, this would appear to be a vicious cycle with no winners. Without access to markets in which the farmer can be paid fairly, prices remain high and exclude lower-income individuals.
Enter urban markets such as FreshFarm, Common Good City Farm, and Wangari Gardens. Each operates in different ways to bridge the gap through access, education and empowerment.
FreshFarm — one of the most recognizable farmers markets in Washington, which operates markets near the White House, at Union Market, Foggy Bottom and other locations throughout Washington, Virginia and Maryland — tackles part of the access issue. Its matching dollars program provides up to $15 matches for patrons with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; Women, Infants and Children; or senior benefits. That means $15 of SNAP benefits will give patrons $30 of fresh produce.
Yonkers said FreshFarm has found other opportunities to promote fresh ingredients to underserved populations.
“Each of our markets has a gleaning program, where farmers donate fresh produce to a nonprofit partner at the end of each market day. This fresh food is used to make meals for our gleaning partner’s clients, such as at Miriam’s Kitchen and Thrive DC.”