Farm Stands Persevere Despite Challenges This Season
The Pop Up Food Hub’s Farm Stands, which for the past five seasons have created retail outlets for fresh produce in traditionally underserved neighborhoods, are an important component of the Food Hub’s distribution model. While traditional farmers markets are an excellent tool for connecting local farms to consumers, different settings require adaptations on this model, in order to meet both farmer and community needs. The farm stands are a community-powered model for bringing fresh, local food to neighborhoods that may not be able to support a fully-fledged farmers market. The Cesar Chavez and Kenilworth Rec Center farm stands, both located in Ward 7, leverage FRESHFARM’s network of farmers and farmers markets to create satellite farm stands managed by local community members. These produce distribution points have become even more crucial this year in light of the pandemic.
Here’s how the farm stands work: FRESHFARM partners with local farms to bring produce to the farm stands on Saturday mornings. However, instead of the farmer staffing the farm stand like they do at market, FRESHFARM employs managers–residents who live in the neighborhood and are eager to support local food access, promote the farm stands, manage inventory, and oversee food access incentive programs at the market. Shoppers come to the farm stand to pick up fruits and veggies and enjoy the company of their neighbors.
In typical seasons, the farm stands are vibrant places where folks from the neighborhood gather to shop–often with Produce Plus checks, SNAP, WIC, and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program checks–swap recipes and cooking tips, and visit with friends and neighbors. This season, the farm stands have changed drastically, and COVID-19 has brought on a significant number of challenges.
The farm stands serve a substantial number of shoppers using Produce Plus, the DC Department of Health program to provide locally grown, fresh produce to DC residents with limited access to fresh, healthy food. In normal years, participants receive $10 checks that may be spent on the fruits and vegetables of their choice. This year, in response to COVID-19, Produce Plus shifted from distributing checks to offering pre-packed boxes of produce to participants to minimize contact during the pandemic. As a result, the farm stands now primarily serve as box pickup points for participants in the program. Shopping and browsing at the farm stand has become much more limited, with just a small selection of produce available for a la carte purchasing.
Despite the challenges of a much pared-down season, the farm stands are arguably even more important this season than in the past. The neighborhoods where the farm stands are located have limited food purchasing options–the only supermarket in the area is over a mile away. Many residents have limited transportation options, and most members of the community tend to stay within their own neighborhoods. Residents are concerned about potential exposure to COVID-19 and are eager for a low-contact opportunity to shop for fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables. “Right now in the pandemic it’s really good [to have the farm stand],” says Melissa Stewart, a farm stand manager at Cesar Chavez. “People don’t want to go to stores. Here they can walk out the door and get fresh produce.”
One of the key factors in the farm stand’s continued success, despite the challenges brought on by this season, is that FRESHFARM is able to meet shoppers in their ability to pay for fresh produce. There is a strong demand for fresh fruits and vegetables in the neighborhoods the farm stands serve, and we prioritize making the farm stand affordable. Prices are based on the purchasing power of the average family in the neighborhood, helping to dispel the notion for some customers that farmers markets are “not for them.” With the conclusion of Produce Plus at the beginning of this month, the farm stands will continue to serve as crucial food access points and an accessible source of fresh produce for the neighborhood by offering $10 vouchers to any customer spending $2 at the farm stand. The $10 voucher program will continue until the farm stand season ends the weekend before Thanksgiving.
While it’s been a challenging season, the Pop Up Food Hub and farm stand teams have persevered to continue to bring local, nutritious food to neighborhoods most in need. We will continue to grow, innovate, and respond to the changing circumstances around the pandemic to make sure the communities we serve will continue to enjoy access to the best fresh, nutritious, local produce available in our region.