Mobile Farmers’ Market
Dream of Wild Health–a program of Peta Wakan Tipi—was established in 1998 as a way to “promote health in the Native community by expanding knowledge of and access to healthy indigenous foods and medicines.” We grow out rare indigenous seeds that have been gifted to the farm, increasing the seed stock for future generations. We offer age-appropriate and culturally focused summer garden programs to Native youth, ages 8-18, who learn about healthy lifestyles and sustainable farming. The older kids develop leadership and basic job skills through paid work apprenticeships for the farm.
In 2008 we received funding for a youth-led project, Native Youth Teach Healthy Diets (Learning to Love Vegetables!) to encourage participation in our Farmers Markets. The project was a success, with youth developing a public presentation and cookbook that encouraged families to cook healthy foods. Since that time, our continued outreach working with Native families has defined deeper challenges to choosing healthy foods at our Farmers Market. Native families suffer disproportionately from poverty and unemployment, making access a significant issue for both transportation and income.
In 2010, we envisioned a Mobile Farmers Market that would deliver fresh produce directly to four organizations serving American Indian families, and offer both EBT and WIC access. We secured a small award from the Wallace Center (HUFED) to purchase a truck and complete a Food Needs Assessment in the St. Paul American Indian community.
We received $6,000 in funds from SARE to:
1) Help pay for stipends to hire a college-age intern, preferably a graduate of our programs, as well as one of our Youth Leaders, to run the Mobile Market: make deliveries, provide information about the produce, and keep detailed records. By hiring Native teens, we encouraged them to act as advocates for healthy choices within their communities, while providing work experience, job skills, and a paycheck.
2) Assist in publicizing the program to families with a press release, brochure about the program, weekly flyers, website updates, and distribution of our healthy cookbook.
3) Support the costs of purchasing equipment for EBT access.
The specific goal for this project was to improve access to healthy foods for the American Indian community in St. Paul. In 2010, we kept detailed records of participation at our Payne Avenue market, establishing a benchmark against which we could measure improvement. Our records included type and amount of vegetables sold and number of people served through each market as a portion of the evaluation process. We also tracked how much impact EBT and WIC access will have on our sales.
We analyzed results of a Food Needs Questionnaire that was distributed during the months prior as well as during the market season. This insight into the practical needs of our customers helped us focus on growing and delivering the vegetables in greatest demand.
We also believe in the importance of qualitative feedback, relying on the stories that we heard from people who buy our vegetables, or try a new dish in our cookbook, or taste kale for the first time. We documented the season with photographs that were posted on our website. We also relied on feedback from our youth participants, from our host organizations for each event, and from members of our community.
In addition to the SARE grant for the Mobile Farmers Market, we received an award from the HUFED project of the Wallace Center, a national award that complemented the SARE grant very effectively. The Wallace Center provided funds for a truck, a food needs assessment, and a consultant to analyze the results of our project. SARE provided funds that helped implement the market, including a graduate student intern to manage the project, provide a salary for a Native teen to work as staff, and publicize the market.
We officially began our Mobile Market project with Talking Circles in early 2011 that were hosted with each partner organization. These events included a healthy lunch provided by Dream of Wild Health, a $10 voucher to shop at the mobile market, a market tote with the DWH logo, a $10 gift card, and the DWH cookbook. Staff and interns helped administer the food needs questionnaire and gave a general introduction prior to the actual market launch. These events helped us strengthen our existing relationships by developing new ways to collaborate between our organizations.
In July, 2011, we successfully launched our Mobile Market at three of four partner locations. Each date and time was chosen with our partners to coincide with other events or programs that would ensure the greatest possible participation from Native families. For example, our market at the Elders Lodge was scheduled for the first Saturday morning in the month because it was immediately after they receive their checks plus the Bread Lady makes a delivery that morning. We also hosted markets at the American Indian Family Center and Department of Indian Works. Our scheduled market at Ain Dah Yung was cancelled because the state of Minnesota shutdown forced them to lay-off the program person who was working with us. That market was rescheduled for August.
The government shutdown for three weeks in July created a great deal of confusion and staff lay-offs within our partner organizations, which affected our market schedule. We continued hosting markets through mid-September, ultimately providing 10 markets over 10 weeks. Nonetheless, we still provided fresh vegetables to 215 Native families and individuals, indicating strong enthusiasm for the markets.
To coordinate the mobile market, we hired a recent college graduate who had been an intern at the farm the previous year. We also hired two Native teens to help staff each market, gaining job experience and earning a salary. We launched the first market with a press release, followed by weekly updates on our website that were also sent by e-mail, tweet, and fax to individuals and organizations. We also created a weekly flyer with a current list of vegetables available at each market. With support from the SARE grant, we were also able to obtain the equipment and training needed to provide EBT/Food stamp access. This process was also delayed by the state shutdown but we only missed the first two markets.
At each market, we kept detailed records of all vegetables purchased. This information, together with the completed Food Needs Questionnaire, were turned over to Ken Meter for analysis in Fall, 2011. The resulting Food Needs Report examines our data from a variety of perspectives, including ways to support the farm’s longer term sustainability. Income for each market, including the mobile market, indicate a 69% improvement in St. Paul sales. While our goal was to increase sales by 100%, we attribute the smaller increase to the reduction in markets caused by the government’s shutdown.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
This project served the American Indian community in St. Paul, MN. Native people experience disproportionately high levels of poverty and disease, especially diabetes. This project helped us launch an innovative market solution that focused on providing access to healthy, affordable food for people challenged by a lack of transportation, income, and food knowledge.
While all of our markets have generated a great deal of positive appreciation for our efforts in making fresh food available, the greatest need was observed during our visit at the Elders Lodge. This group is challenged by both a lack of transportation as well as low income. When we arrived, about a dozen elders were waiting for us to set up our market in their communal dining room. They do not receive prepared meals on the weekends. We sold out of most of our produce, which was primarily paid for using Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers, EBT access, and the vouchers we gave out during the Talking Circle. Later, when the Bread Lady arrived, we watched as these same elders loaded up their walkers with bread, cookies, and cakes that had been donated by a local grocery store. We had the immense satisfaction of seeing bags of carrots, greens, onions, and radishes also riding in these walkers. They also expressed heartfelt appreciation that we would make the effort to deliver fresh vegetables right to their dining room so they didn’t even need to leave the building.
Through our partnership with the American Indian Family Center and a donation from the Minnesota Horticultural Society, we could also donate 15 gardens-in-a-box to client families. While supported by outside funding, this project augmented the mobile market by encouraging families to begin growing their own food on a very small scale. The mobile market fits within our holistic approach to improving health by addressing issues with a variety of approaches, from providing education to hiring Native adults to work at the farm. Our experience has taught us that changing diets and improving health is a complex, multi-faceted challenge. The Mobile Market was an integral piece of our programs by literally delivering food directly to families in need.