Fresh Take Blog
Community Engagement

Local Produce with a Side of Knowledge: Market Education Empowers Use Of Seasonal Produce

Mar. 6, 2023

For some people, farmers markets can be an intimidating retail experience: familiar produce like carrots and potatoes can look different than what you find in the supermarket, and pricing can vary from stand to stand.

With the goal of empowering shoppers to feel confident purchasing and using local produce, FRESHFARM’s Community Engagement program piloted “market education” sessions at five FRESHFARM markets and farm stands in 2022.

FRESHFARM created the position of Market Educator with the goal of supporting healthy food retail environments throughout District neighborhoods with moderate to high rates of food insecurity and chronic disease. Our Market Educator served as an information resource to SNAP eligible market shoppers, through the development and implementation of a District-wide farmers market produce incentive program and supportive nutrition education.

Market Education In Action

Here’s how this work took shape at market: our Market Educator Charity regularly visited markets from June through November to conduct tastings, cooking demonstrations, information sessions, and hand out resources to educate and empower shoppers in their market experience. Not surprisingly, cooking demos were a big hit, and some of our shoppers’ favorite recipes from last season’s sessions were:

In addition to Charity’s on-site work, she provided direct and indirect nutrition programming and internal training to FRESHFARM market staff and partner organizations. Charity has reached over 1,000 FRESHFARM shoppers and has supported over 20 markets in making these community spaces more accessible to shoppers using federal nutrition benefits.

Increasing Comfort At The Market

FRESHFARM adapted evaluation tools from the Michigan Fitness Foundation’s Program Playbook, which allowed Community Engagement staff to help measure shoppers’ comfort at market using affordability, promotion, atmosphere, and accessibility as key indicators. These tools have helped us immensely in creating market assessments and behavior surveys to understand our reach and impact. Survey responses were overwhelmingly positive: 77% of shoppers surveyed shared that they would eat more vegetables because of their interactions with the market educator, and 66% shared that they’d try more vegetables and use their benefits at market. Along with FRESHFARM’s Market Staff, external partners — including staff from the DC Department of Health, Martha’s Table, University of DC, Friends of the National Arboretum, DC Central Kitchen, and Capital Area Food Bank — participated in our Food Navigator Training to help service providers feel more comfortable in community engagement in food retail environments.

As Market Education gears up for its second year of programming, we are excited to launch sessions with more seasonal recipes, enhanced learning opportunities, and stronger efforts around targeted outreach. We look forward to:

  • Expanding Market Education reach to new markets and farm stands
  • Creating more opportunities to incorporate FoodPrints curriculum to engage with youth
  • Offering updated Food Navigator Trainings and resources to market staff and external partners in food retail environments
  • Creating avenues to continue collaborating with shoppers, farmers and producers, and community partners to adequately support our market environments!

Implementing market education would not have been possible without the ongoing support of market staff, FRESHFARM farmers and producers, the Pop-Up Food Hub, and committed shoppers. In other words, the same key stakeholders that make farmers markets happen in the first place are the ones that shape what our programming and support look like. Thank you!

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