Since its inception in May 2000, the Mill Race Center Farmers Market has successfully fulfilled its not for profit vision to help provide for the nutritional, social, and economic needs of the community in a sustainable way. An impressive array of food items has become available through the market including organically-grown fruits and vegetables, free range and pasture fed eggs, meats, and cheese high quality bakery items and freshly prepared value added items. Relationships have developed between producers and patrons, creating empowerment for both populations and positively impacting participation in and education about food options and access.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The Farmers Market CSA Outreach Program was conceived to fulfill several objectives. The first was to continue to provide and hopefully, to expand a viable market for local producers. The second was to connect the products grown by local producers with income and nutritionally compromised members of the community. The third was to effect systemic change by building relationships between providers and consumers of high quality and locally grown fruits and vegetables. By the end of this two year grant, we fell we have had a positive impact on these objectives and have recognized barriers to their fulfillment as well.
The original Community Supported Agriculture Program provided shares to approximately 100 member families. The subsidized membership supported by the SARE grant has helped us expand the program to 112 more families. Qualified families were identified through local agencies, organizations and churches and were, in many cases, already receiving food aid of some sort. An application was distributed by these churches and agencies, some of which contributed financially to the program as well. Recipients were also asked to contribute to the program if they were able and some did. All in all, less than 10% of the cost of memberships was contributed by either the recipients or the agencies. Seeking matching funds became a concentrated fundraising effort.
Each family brought their application to the Farmers Market and was given a shopping basket and an identification card. If a contribution was made by them or on their behalf, they were given the entire season to shop (twenty five weeks). Their membership was prorated based on their contribution but no one was given a membership of less than thirteen weeks or the equivalent of a half membership, even if they had nothing to contribute. Their basket and ID card identified them as CSA members to vendors and they were indistinguishable from the other CSA members. In addition to providing local and nutritious food, we felt it was essential to preserve integrity as well.
One challenge of the program has been the inexperience of low income families in eating and using fresh produce. A great deal of informational exchange took place between members and vendors and two educational programs were also held. An event which allowed children to make figures out of vegetables allowed parents to sample various foods made from vegetables that may have been unfamiliar to them. In contrast, though, vendors have received an incredible education as cultures meet and ideas were shared about how particular families use the food they acquired at the market. Vendors were also able to accommodate the varied demands by providing requested items as the season allowed.
The feedback from both recipients and vendors has been positive to date. Quite a large percentage of subsidized members used all their shopping trips almost immediately as if there was some fear that the program would disappear before they could take advantage of it. We did notice that some of these people continued to shop at the market even after their membership was utilized. Others spread the shopping trips out evenly and are, at this time, still using punches on their card. Though they often ask about produce items that are now no longer in season, they seem interested and pleased to find the variety still available in early November. Since a large number of our community residents are recent immigrants from Kentucky and Tennessee or from Mexico, there is probably an even greater awareness by them of the seasonal nature of produce than that of the general public, though this issue is always a challenge for every farmers market or seasonal producer.
At a vendor meeting in October 2003, vendors expressed strong interest in pursuing avenues for continuing the program even after these funds have run out and agreed to explore ideas for making that happen.
This last year, our goal has been to involve agencies more in the education aspect of the project and to seek their financial participation as well. Several events were held over the winter season of 2003-2004 to inform agency personnel of the opportunity to promote the program and to raise more funds to match the SARE portion of the project. though more information was provided, we were disappointed by the response of the agency and corporate community. Some donations were received and two new churches purchased memberships for their low income members but there seems to be an obvious gap in the contribution that sustainable agriculture and CSA programs can make to the community. The sense seems to be that food distribution is already in place and that the economy (of particular interest to the donor community) is not heavily affected by agriculture. We have more work to do in this area.
We feel strongly that the SARE grant funds have made a significant and positive impact on both the nutritional intake of low income families and on the marketing opportunities of vendors.
Initially, several avenues were used for informing the community about the CSA outreach project. A “Helping Others” flyer was enclosed in the mailing to the non-subsidized members. An “Invitation to Churches” brochure was created and sent out to about 30 churches and an invitation letter was developed for agencies and disseminated to approximately 25 organizations in Goshen. Enclosed in the invitation letter was a sample application. The first year, the applications were copied by several of the organizations and clients were actually waiting in line at the market to sign up. We realized that we were going to use up all the funds in a matter of weeks at that rate so we began limiting memberships to half the season or to organizations and agencies who were willing to match the contribution. We funded a portion of 52 memberships in 2003 and 60 in 2004. We had no need to advertise the program in the media since it was in greater demand than we were able to respond to.
During 2003, a representative spoke to several service organizations about the project in an effort to raise additional matching funds. We also sponsored a luncheon in September of 2005 to raise awareness among the corporate community. Several of these events were covered by the media. The Chamber of Commerce also included information about our program in their newsletter. An estimated 300 to 400 people outside of target participants were directly informed about the program through these venues.
We have full intention of attempting to raise the funds to continue and expand this program in 2005. We believe it is critical to develop trust and maintain consistency in responding to an obvious need in the community.