Written by Elizabeth Ferrante ’19, GroW Garden Manager
This summer I am delving into the field of local food systems and equity. I am working at Community Food Works as a market manager and events coordinator in the Glover Park-Burleith and Shaw neighborhoods of DC and at GW’s GroW Garden as a co-manager with Izzy Moody ‘19.
Working for Community Foodworks has been an incredible experience where I have learned so much about nonprofit organizations, farmers markets, the mid-Atlantic food system. I’ve learned about programs structured to address inequalities in the food system at the state, neighborhood, and individual level. Community Foodworks operates 14 farmers market across DC and Northern Virginia, many of which are located in low-income neighborhoods such as the Parkside and Kenilworth neighborhoods in Ward 7.These farmers markets serve as a platform for local food distribution to increase access to healthy, fresh, and local food for underserved populations, while creating new and diversified income streams for farmers. The Shaw farmer’s market that I manage is located in a mixed income neighborhood in Ward 2. Consistent with a growing trend across the country, we accept federal nutrition assistance at the market and have matching programs for SNAP, WIC, and Senior checks. Through our Bonus Bucks program, we match government nutrition assistance benefits at the market up to $20, thereby creating an incentive for people to shop at farmers markets and access affordable fresh local produce, meat, and grains. We also distribute Produce Plus checks at the market, which is a DC program for income-qualifying residents where they can receive $10 per market for up to two markets each week.
At the market, I have watched redemption rates of each of these programs increase as knowledge spreads through word of mouth and outreach initiatives. And yet, through my experiences I am increasingly aware of barriers to the initiatives and to the food itself. Many of the market attendees are non-native English speakers, making it challenging to fully communicate the scope of assistance that they qualify for. Furthermore, some customers, especially seniors, have expressed to me that they don’t have access to a kitchen that is easy for them to use, limiting what types of produce they can buy. Those with limited physical ability also face the challenge of physically attending the market to redeem their benefits. Many participants use friends or family members as proxies who can redeem benefits on their behalf.
Working as a manager of the GroW garden is a wonderful experience that connects me with where food comes from. All of our fruits and vegetables grown in the campus garden are donated to Miriam’s Kitchen, a center dedicated to ending chronic homelessness by providing food, case management, and therapeutic art services to homeless individuals. Going through the cycle of planting, maintaining, harvesting, and finally delivering fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs to those in need is an incredibly satisfying experience. The garden offers volunteer hours on Wednesdays from 5-6pm and on Sundays from 5-7pm. Connecting the greater community with food production and distribution is an important way to empower people to make a positive difference. Volunteers achieve visible progress in the garden, and see the resulting harvests through our social media platforms. Bringing communities together around food is essential to establishing a sustainable model of progress.
This summer I have learned that food systems are a central component of what makes communities prosper. Each community member has a role to play in working towards equitable, sustainable, and community-structured food systems which is a basic step towards a society with better health outcomes, less violence, and greater social and economic mobility.