~ from erin, Director of Local Food Programs ~
Stacy discovered Countryside Farmers' Markets a few years ago. She had recently had her second daughter and was receiving WIC benefits. WIC was distributing their Farmers' Market Nutrition Program vouchers at the Highland Square market. This was Stacy's first visit to any farmers' market. She was thrilled to receive the $20 worth of vouchers from WIC and was also thrilled to learn that Countryside markets accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and also offer Produce Perks - a nutrition incentive that provides matching dollars for the purchase of fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables. Stacy has been shopping at one of the markets every week ever since.
For Stacy, it's not just an additional $20 for produce - it's $20 that makes it affordable to buy high-quality, locally-grown fruits and vegetables from farmers with whom she has developed relationships. She finds that the produce at the markets is lower priced than produce in the grocery stores. With the additional $20 incentive per week, she's able to shop for a week's worth of healthy meals for her family: "I am now able to buy fresh locally grown produce at an affordable price. I make a weekly meal plan and then make a list of all the ingredients I need," says Stacy. "I get 90% of my produce from the market. (The other 10% is either produce that can't be grown in this area or is out of season.)"
Stacy has an adventurous spirit, so she's also loved trying the different kinds of fruits and vegetables offered at the market. "When I first started coming to the markets I would try a new vegetable every week. Some of the stuff I had never even heard of before!" She loves to share these adventures with her family. Her daughters fell in love with purple sweet potatoes and were heartbroken to learn that the farmer who had been growing them was retiring - this isn't something you can find at the store. Because of Stacy's relationships with other farmers, her daughters will not go without this year - other farmers planted them this season, specifically with Stacy and her girls in mind.
Her relationships with farmers and her love of the freshest, best produce, also inspired Stacy and her family to start their own garden. Stacy gets great advice from her farmer friends on what varieties to plant and other tips and tricks. (Stacy's garden is pictured to the right.)
Stacy is one of the most enthusiastic market customers I know. It's not just that she's a regular shopper, she's outspoken about the joy she finds in shopping at the markets - meeting farmers, trying new things, feeding her husband and her children the freshest and healthiest foods. She's a jubilant reminder of why Countryside does what it does by hosting farmers' markets and, even more so, working diligently on our food access initiatives. Delighting in healthy and diverse food, connecting with the people who grow and make it, and experiencing the physical and emotional well-being that these provide - we don't believe that this should be an elitist opportunity, we believe that it an enormous part of the human experience and should be available to everyone.
Below are some recent statistics from our food access programs. They are good numbers, mathematically speaking. But think about the numbers this way - if Stacy didn't come to the markets, if the number of customers served were one less, it wouldn't change the math drastically. But to Stacy and her family, and a non-mathematical assessment of impact, it would be far less. Every customer served is an actual person with a story. Each transaction means that a real person visited the markets to buy real food from other real people.
To learn more about SNAP and Produce Perks at Countryside Farmers' Markets, click here.
To learn more about Carrot Cash, Countryside's nutrition incentive for WIC recipients, click here.
Produce Perks is funded by Produce Perks Midwest via a USDA Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive (formerly FINI) Grant. Funding for the program was recently included in the Ohio state budget for 2020-21. Countryside’s food access work is locally funded by the Huntington-Akron Foundation, Akron Community Foundation, PNC Foundation, Tuscora Parks Health & Wellness Foundation, the Women’s Endowment Fund, Smuckers, and individual donors.