Farmers Market Takes Steps to Bridge Income Gap
Small growers look for ways to build farm business in NE Kansas City, KS
It’s almost that time of year. The plants are in the greenhouse. Farmers are watching the weather, eager to put seeds in the ground. Before you know it, the farmers markets of Kansas City will be in full swing, offering us the best local delights. According to the USDA, the number of farmers markets in the US continues to climb (another 13 percent between 2008 and 2009 alone). As eaters are reconnecting with their food, farmers markets are the first place they go. There is something unique and powerful about shaking the hands that grew the food you eat.
In lower income areas, where price is the bottom line, farmers markets have been slower to catch on. Small scale farmers need a higher price point to earn a living wage and people on limited incomes are trying to get the most food with limited resources. The Juniper Gardens Farmers Market was established in 2008 concurrent with the development of KCCUA’s incubator training farm at Juniper Gardens. The market and training farm are in northeast Kansas City, KS, where a single supermarket serves a six mile radius. The market started small, with just a few participants of the New Roots for Refugees program selling heirloom tomatoes and okra on folding tables. Some neighborhood residents wandered by, introduced themselves, asked questions about unfamiliar items and purchased vegetables grown a few hundred feet from their homes.
In 2009, through a partnership with the KCK Greenmarket, the Juniper Garden Farmers Market began accepting SNAP benefits (formerly food stamps) through the use of a wireless terminal. A few new vendors from the neighborhood joined. Traffic increased slightly, but still the market was not viable. At the end of the season, friends from the Healthy Parents, Healthy Kids program (a community-based healthy lifestyles initiative) conducted a survey among area residents. Results indicated that neighbors were largely either unaware of the market or didn’t know how to cook with fresh vegetables.
In 2010, our market plans to increase awareness and accessibility for its neighbors. We will participate in the new Beans and Greens initiative. Funded by the Menorah Legacy Foundation, this initiative offers a 1:1 match on SNAP benefits and Seniors' Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers. The Juniper Gardens Farmers Market will be one of ten markets throughout Kansas City participating in Beans and Greens in 2010. This initiative is exciting because it reduces the gap between small scale farmers and low-income eaters. In cities such as Boston and San Diego, similar programs have energized markets and increased sales tremendously. The farmers are excited about the possibility of additional revenue. At a recent meeting, I explained the Beans and Greens concept to several refugee farmers who smiled and started asking questions about how the program works and offering suggestions on getting new customers to the market. “Is the match really 1:1?” “Can our friends buy from us using their SNAP benefits?” “We should bring a bus from other housing sites to the market!”
Four residents of Juniper Gardens, participants in the Healthy Parents, Healthy Kids Program, have been hired as market ambassadors, working with program staff to develop an effective marketing plan for the neighborhood. Refugee farmers are meeting to figure out how to get the word out to their communities. The buzz is building as transplants are growing in the greenhouse. Participants in KCCUA’s Farm Business Development Program will sell alongside refugee vendors, adding new faces and products to the multi-cultural market. Special events are planned to cultivate a community atmosphere, and market hours have been extended to increase access. Partnerships have been formed between the Housing Authority, Healthy Parents Healthy Kids, the KCK Greenmarket, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas and KCCUA--all working together to grow the vegetables and spread the word.
The Juniper Gardens Farmers Market will be open every Monday, June through October, 11:30am - 4:30pm. On the first Monday of each month, the market will have additional evening hours from 5pm - 7pm. The Juniper Gardens Farmers Market is located in the parking lot of Third Street Church of God at the corner of 3rd and Richmond in Kansas City, KS.
Rachel Bonar is Program Coordinator for the New Roots for Refugees Program. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.