This week I was able to experience an aspect of Urban Tree Connection’s work that I was not as familiar with. I have been learning a lot about the intricacies of their food and distribution program through the grant writing that I have been involved in. I know that they grow over 10,000 pounds of food sustainably every year and that they distribute this food to over 800 families in the Haddington Neighborhood. I also know that they distribute this food through weekly farmers markets and a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture). I had seen the program first-hand from the farm side as I have had the opportunity to spend time planting, harvesting, and packaging produce for markets at their Neighborhood Foods Farm site. I, however, had never been to one of their farmers markets.
The UTC director was away in California this week for training, so she asked me to help work at one of the pop-up farmers markets this week, primarily to cover the event on social media. UTC hosted their first farmers market at Shepard Recreation Center on 57th and Haverford Ave. I met Nykisha, the Community Markets Manager, at the farm in the morning to help her load the truck with tables, baskets, and produce from the fridge. We set up three tables at the recreation center, and arranged the produce nicely in baskets on African-style tablecloths. Nykisha was very particular about the way that the tables and produce were arranged which makes sense as aesthetics pull people in. The market was mainly run by the Teen Apprentices (some from UTC and some from a partner program). The goal is to teach the teens about food sovereignty, market management, and about student-led cooperatives.
This particular market was run in partnership with Vetri, Mill Creek Farm, and State Representative Cephas. One of the tables at the market was handing out FMNP (Farmers Market Nutrition Program) senior vouchers. I believe that if a certain qualification is met regarding income, people can pick up four vouchers for $5 each per year. These vouchers can be spent on fresh produce at farmers markets. The majority of the customers we received at our table paid using their vouchers.
The human interaction at the market was a nice change to the administrative work I have been doing. Most of the customers seemed genuinely happy to see fresh produce being sold in their neighborhood. Many of them asked when we would be back. Nykisha decided that this market will be held the last Tuesday of every month from 11 am to 3 pm at the recreation center. She likes to host pop-up markets, some of which become permanent, because she is passionate about reaching as many people in the neighborhood as possible. Many people do not buy food at farmers markets because they are not aware that they exist and/or that they accept subsidized forms of payment.
One of my main market take-aways is that food sovereignty is important. Access to food alone is not enough. People need access to foods that are culturally-relevant and foods that fit their taste preferences. They need choices. Nykisha says that she always like to provide a variety; she offers more than one type of many of the foods, and she makes sure to have both fruit and vegetables even though fruit is not grown by UTC. People need to have agency when it comes to their dietary choices.