Fresh Food from Urban Farms and Farmers’ Markets
Efforts to increase access to affordable and nutritious food can be seen in all parts of Wards 7 and 8 through the work of community-based organizations, not-for-profits, and governmental agencies. We see it in initiatives encouraging good nutrition like the YMCA youth-run farmers’ market, Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture’s Mobile Market, DC Department of Health’s Produce Plus program, and more. The collaborative relationships are key to a more comprehensive and sustainable approach.
Based on the historic grounds of the Woodlawn Estate in Alexandria, Va., five-year-old Arcadia is a nonprofit organization that has been dedicated to creating a more equitable and sustainable local food system. Managing its onsite farm using sustainable growing practices, Arcadia distributes fresh and affordable food to underserved DC-area neighborhoods with its vibrant green Mobile Market – a converted school bus that brings great product from their farm and supplements their own harvest with produce, meats, and dairy products from local farms.
Arcadia stops at community and recreation centers, parks, and healthcare providers. Arcadia attended eight locations the first year with its Mobile Market, increasing to 19 this year, with more than half (12 total) in Wards 7 and 8. Often you’ll see culinary educator Juju Harris conducting food demonstrations with recipes that are cost-effective and easy to make.
“We go where the food isn’t,” says executive director Pam Hess. “Arcadia is growing to respond to community needs and the needs of the food system. We've added a week of farm camp (for youth), extra field trips, and are launching a program to train veterans to become farmers. We are expanding our farm to grow more food, and continue to look for new locations for our Mobile Market to help more people have access to the best food our region has to offer.”
Administered through DC’s Department of Health, the Produce Plus program is available to any DC resident who is a recipient of SNAP, WIC, Grocery Plus/CSFP, Medicaid, SSI, Medicare, or TANF. Participants may receive $10 to spend on fresh fruit and vegetables with enrolled farmers and producers. By showing a DC-issued photo ID card and program ID card indicating eligibility (such as an EBT or Medicaid insurance card), participants may use the checks at farmers’ markets throughout DC each week from June 1 through Sept. 30.
In its sixth year, DC Greens is a not-for-profit that works with government and not-for-profit organizations to build a healthy food system in and around the District. Lillie Rosen, food access director for DC Greens, has tracked data on program participation for Produce Plus. “Approximately 15,000 DC families were reached through the summer of 2014,” she reports. “As soon as someone sees the program in action they understand its impact. It’s not only a health benefit to the residents that are eating great fruits and vegetables, but the program engages farmers’ participation at more markets. It’s beneficial on all fronts,” she says.
During FY 2013 the DC Council allocated $40,000, increased in FY 2014 to $150,000, with the Department of Health augmenting the budget by another $50,000. In 2015 the DC Council allocated $100,000 and the Department of Health identified an additional $300,000, allowing for increased participation. Sabrina Lewis, public health advisor for DC Department of Health, says of the incremental increases in the budget, “The good news is that going forward into FY 2016 we have $450K in the budget. We see success when people use the benefit and redeem their checks with the farmers. The program’s positive health outcomes show that DC residents are dedicated to their health and interested in healthful eating.”
DC Greens is also looking for volunteers to support the Produce Plus program in their Farmers’ Market Brigade (dcgreens.org/volunteer). Volunteers attend a two-hour training session and sign up for at least five volunteer slots at farmers’ markets where they distribute Produce Plus vouchers and chat with customers. “They are the force that makes the program work,” according to Rosen. “Over 200 DC residents are already supporting the program, and we need another 100 to join us.”
Rosen also leads the DC Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program (FVRx). It launched in 2012 when DC Greens collaborated with Unity Health Care and Wholesome Wave. Since then more than 200 at-risk DC residents have received prescriptions from their doctors that can be filled at participating “farmacies” – expanding access to affordable and nutritious food. “Looking at health results, where a patient might have chronic obesity with a high BMI, we’ve seen at least half of these patients realize a reduction in BMI. And more important, if they’re checking in with their healthcare provider more frequently, the increase in patient retention typically signals greater health outcomes overall.”
Kids Rule at the Market
The YMCA is known for creative youth programs, and this year Kristy McCarron, food education specialist at the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, designed a curriculum around a conversation she had been having with parents: the high price of local food. “We had the idea to purchase food from a local food hub and pass along the reasonable cost. We also knew that in order to get a buy-in from parents it was key to get the kids involved.”
The YMCA’s program purchases produce from 4P Foods – the “Ps” stand for purpose, people, planet, and profit – a model based on community supported agriculture (CSA) in which participants buy a share of a farm’s output before the beginning of the season. The Y’s program sources food from our local foodshed, most of it from farmers and producers in Virginia and Maryland. For every 10 bags of food it delivers, 4P Foods donates a share to Martha’s Table.
The YMCA created its eight-week summer program to teach kids how to run a farm stand at the Capitol View Farmers’ Market (2118 Ridgecrest Court SE, Wednesdays, 3:30 to 6:00 p.m.) – from learning how to set a mission for the farm stand to being a cashier. The students also learn about how the food is grown, what’s in season, the importance of healthful eating, diet-related illness, food cost comparison, food justice, and menu planning. “The great thing about this program is that you can use the market to incorporate math and science skills in a very practical way, through planning and budgeting, and some kids just learn better through this method,” says McCarron.
The students, ages 8 to 12, are assigned different roles each week. They might serve as chefs, perform demonstrations or taste-tests, hand out recipes that are relevant to what’s at the market, work as cashiers, or help stock the stand. “You can tell when you walk up to the stand that it’s kid-driven, and the parents enjoy shopping here too.”
McCarron says the goal is to keep the market running through the fall and start back up next summer. “The kids take such ownership of the market, and they’re learning the important customer-service piece. If the market looks good, people will want to shop at their stand, and building relationships with their customers carries over into day-to-day interactions with each other too.”
Chris Bradshaw, executive director of Dreaming Out Loud Inc., founded Aya Community Markets in 2011 and manages a growing network of farmers’ markets that started in Ward 7 with a location at the Unity Health Care Clinic on Minnesota Avenue. “The markets end up being an economic engine as well as a health engine,” says Bradshaw. “We also partner with UDC to have food demonstrations and hand out recipes with nutritional information.” Bradshaw says some of the nutrition programming started when they were conducting school-based classes and were looking to serve nutritional snacks. “There’s a growing awareness about health in the community,” says Bradshaw.
In terms of participation with Produce Plus, Bradshaw notes, “There’s more participation week to week. People are really planning their grocery shopping around the markets, and we keep seeing the positive impact with participants addressing health issues starting with good nutrition.”
THEARC’s Organic Garden and CSA
DC Greens has a new post this year. Violet King, their education coordinator, started a garden at the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC) at 1901 Mississippi Ave. SE. King has lived in Anacostia since 2011 and has two small children, which really prompted her interest in food access issues. “My children and I are vegetarians and it was difficult to find fresh, healthful food,” she says.
King had administered a CSA in Shaw. Originally from Massachusetts, King also knew of a number of good models of low-cost CSAs. “I knew there was a need for this in the community, and now we can offer a discounted rate,” she explains, noting that anyone can pay for the $20 share in part with weekly Produce Plus or SNAP checks. The difference with this CSA model is that it allows flexibility for people to pay on a biweekly basis, not necessarily in full for the entire six-week session. The weekly box provides for approximately 5-10 pounds of a variety of vegetables and fruits like eggplant, cabbage, carrots, peaches, and herbs. Produce from THEARC’s garden is supplemented with fresh vegetables at the K Street garden, affiliated with DC Greens.
The first session has been popular. Pick-ups take place each Wednesday from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. The second session, starting July 29 (running through Sept. 2), will be followed by a final session, Sept. 16 through Oct. 21 (thearcdc.org/garden for further information).
King hopes to grow the program at THEARC. A farm stand open on Saturdays from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. offers musical performances, art programs, and cooking demonstrations. King provides recipes so that people can easily use the variety of produce. (See her recipe for summer vegetable soup below.)
Summer Vegetable Soup
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup sliced squash
1 can (15½ oz.) organic kidney beans
½ cup diced and peeled red potatoes
½ cup cut green beans
½ cup chopped and peeled tomato
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon sea salt
⅛ teaspoon ground turmeric (to taste)
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper (to taste)
2 tablespoons tomato paste (to taste)
In a large saucepan sauté onion and garlic in oil until tender. Add the rest of the ingredients except tomato paste and seasoning. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
Stir in tomato paste and add seasoning to taste. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Yield: 4 servings.
Weekly Farmers’ Markets
Updates to changes in the market scene can be found on the websites of DC Greens (dcgreens.org) and Arcadia (arcadiafood.org).
Arcadia’s Mobile Market, United Medical Center, 1310 Southern Ave. SE, 11:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m.
Arcadia’s Mobile Market, Riverside Healthy Living Center, 601 Division Ave. NE, 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
Arcadia’s Mobile Market, Edgewood Commons, 601 Edgewood St. NE, 3:00-6:00 p.m.
Arcadia’s Mobile Market, Unity Health Center Parkside, 765 Kenilworth Terrace NE, 3:00-6:00 pm.
Arcadia’s Mobile Market, The Overlook at Oxon Run, 3700 9th St. SE, 4:00-6:00 p.m.
Aya Community Markets, Unity Health Center, 3924 Minnesota Ave. SE, 3:00-6:00 p.m.
Arcadia’s Mobile Market, Congress Heights Senior Wellness Center, 3500 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, 9:00-11:00 a.m.
Arcadia’s Mobile Market, Children’s WIC Clinic at THEARC, 1901 Mississippi Ave. SE, 12:00-2:00 p.m.
CSA pick-up at THEARC, 1901 Mississippi Ave. SE, 4:00-7:00 p.m.
Arcadia’s Mobile Market, Washington Senior Wellness Center, 3001 Alabama Ave. SE, 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
Arcadia’s Mobile Market, Hendley Elementary School, 425 Chesapeake St. SE, 3:00-6:00 p.m.
DC Urban Greens Farm Stand, Fort Dupont Ice Rink, 3779 Ely Place SE, 3:00-5:00 p.m.
Arcadia’s Mobile Market, Deanwood Recreation Center, 4800 Minnesota Ave. NE, 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Arcadia’s Mobile Market, Providence Hospital, 1150 Varnum St. NE, 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
Arcadia’s Mobile Market, Smothers Elementary School, 4400 Brooks St. NE, 2:00-5:00 p.m.
Arcadia’s Mobile Market, Barry Farm Recreation Center, 1230 Sumner Rd. SE, 2:00-5:00 p.m.
Farm Stand at THEARC, 1901 Mississippi Ave. SE, 3:00-7:00 p.m.
Ward 8 Farmers’ Market, St. Elizabeths East Gate Gateway Pavilion, 2730 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE (across from car wash), 9:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.
Riverside Center Market, Riverside Healthy Living Center, 601 Division Ave. NE, 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.