I’m so happy that spring is almost here, not because I don’t like winter, but because I’m a fan of outdoor farmers’ markets. Visiting your local farmers’ stands is like heading to the farm without spending money on gas. The way that I feel about this growing trend of urban markets is the more the merrier. Most of the times these favorable food options start off as grassroots initiatives, which makes the overall healthy ‘farm to table’ trend that much more impressive. The only problem is that many of these markets arise in areas of the city where healthier food options are already available. While that improves the quality of life for those living nearby, or who have easy access to transportation, most struggling neighborhoods are left without the ability to provide healthy and convenient options for the residents.
We need to be looking at supporting the farming community while encouraging more people to launch businesses that aim to provide fresh food resources to communities that may not otherwise have the access to healthy ingredients and meals. What many people may not know is that there is already a program in place that can help those interested in taking the plunge or the next step. It’s called The FreshConnect and it’s an initiative that Governor Andrew Cuomo says will help to “ensure that all of our citizens have access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food – nothing better fits the bill than the items grown right here in our state by New York’s farmers.” The FreshConnect is in place to help:
-satellite markets that purchase produce from an existing market and resell it in an area that cannot support its own market
-programs to increase access to farm products at food pantries
-delivery programs that send farm goods to areas in need
-programs for low-income individuals to access food directly from a farm, including through Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs)
-new farmers’ markets that are located in underserved neighborhoods
What this may all boil down to is this: As a community, we need to marry the initiatives with the grant dollars. We also need to connect the food markets (potential and existing) with the farmers. A good example of this would be to introduce the refugee communities to the farming communities. Take a look at the West Side Bazaar. Where and how are the refugees sourcing their foods? Grant moneys such as The FreshConnect could enable fledgling entrepreneurs to take advantage of direct produce lines in order to bring healthier foods into needy neighborhoods. I would imagine that there could ultimately be some financial saving incentives in doing so – think of power in numbers. Or the idea could be as simple as a wholesome food cart. I am sure that there are people out there with the ideas, who would be more inclined to enact upon them if they knew that there were financial resources available.
*Grants for potential FreshConnect projects will be awarded on a competitive basis and can be applied for here before April 2, 2012.