KEEPING IT FARM FRESH WITH FRESHFARM
On a chilly January morning in Silver Spring, Julie Stinar is making a deal: Beef for bread.
“We do a lot of trading around here,” Stinar, owner of Evensong Farms, said of her fellow vendors at FRESHFARM Markets.
FRESHFARM began as a single farmers market in 1997. Nineteen years later, it’s a thriving nonprofit with 11 markets, including two year-round, and multiple nutrition assistance, education and business development programs. But FRESHFARM’s primary goal is to support the people who make it all possible: The farmers.
“We are all about the supply side in the food movement,” said executive director Mike Koch. “We’ve long been dedicated to providing economic opportunities to farmers and producers.”
A FRESHFARM program that helps provide those opportunities is the Jean Wallace Douglas Farmer Fund, a scholarship program for growers and producers.
Stinar has benefited from the Farmer Fund to attend the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Conference.
“Every time I learn different things,” she said. “Last time I was focused on business plans related to agriculture, as well as herb production.”
In addition to grass-fed beef, chicken and pork, Evensong offers homegrown herb lemonades three seasons of the year.
FRESHFARM is dedicated to making the public aware of the importance of local food from environmental, food security, health perspective and economic perspectives.
“Everybody should have the right to do a job that they love to do,” said marketing manager Nikki Warner. “Farmers don’t farm because it’s a profitable business; they love to cultivate the soil and nourish their families. That’s their American dream. If there’s no way for them to be economically viable, we have to rely on the industrialization of food.”
“There’s something greatly unfair about those who grow our food and ensure we have a table that’s filled having a hard time guaranteeing they’re making a living,” added Koch.
The FRESHFARM team helps promote this awareness and appreciation of locally grown food from a young age through FoodPrints, a partnership with DC Public Schools that integrates gardening, cooking and nutrition lessons into the students’ curricula.
“The food environment that our kids are growing up in is pretty horrendous,” said Jennifer Mampara, FRESHFARM’s director of education. “If you look at the messages, they’re pretty horrendous. The foods that are being advertised to them are not the foods they need to eat.”
Another issue is access – public school children in DC often come from the city’s so-called “food deserts,” where fresh produce is not readily available.
“So many kids live in neighborhoods where they don’t have access to full-service grocery,” continued Mampara. “It’s so much cheaper to buy a soda and a bag of potato chips. We want to offer a counter to those messages and offer something meaningful and hands-on.”
FRESHFARM also works to help combat the food deserts through gleaning partnerships with other area organizations, including DC Central Kitchen and Miriam’s Kitchen, and nutrition assistance SNAP and matching dollars programs.
“Not only does it benefit the shopper, but the farmer gets sales from a client who would not otherwise shop at the farmers market,” Warner said.
At present, FoodPrints exists in six schools – five in Ward 6 on Capitol Hill, and one in Ward 2 near Foggy Bottom. Next year, two schools in Wards 7 and 8 will be added. FoodPrints began with a $5000 donation from a market customer who requested only that an education program for school children be established.
The FRESHFARM staff members say they observe children who have a chance to help grow vegetables and create healthy meals appreciating fresh food in a way they might not otherwise, even if they begin with a sense of apprehension. Mampara recalls one child who confided that she was “allergic” to the kale salad the class was making.
At the end of class, Jennifer said, “I looked over and she was gobbling it down, and she said ‘it turns out I’m not allergic to kale anymore!’”
(Unless otherwise indicated, all photos have been provided by FRESHFARM Markets.)
About the Author: When Holly Leber isn't running editorial for the Daily Do Good, she enjoys spending all her money at farmer's markets. More publishers should pay her to write stories about said markets, so she can continue to support the farmers.