River Valley Co-op (RVC) and Grow Food Northampton’s partnership goes all the way back to when…
As 2018 comes to a close, we are proud to take a look back at our Food Access work. Our programs each grew in terms of our reach into the Northampton community and new and deepening connections with partners, all while paying close attention to our mission and the voices of our program participants.
In all corners of Northampton, the impact of our programs has been felt. From subsidized farm shares at Crimson and Clover Farm to our Red Bag Share deliveries around town to our own Tuesday Market, to our work on our own land in the Giving Garden and Community Garden, we’ve worked hard to make the bountiful and beautiful produce in our Valley available to all budgets.
Farm Shares on the Road
The biggest addition to our Food Access work was the Mobile Market Pilot, followed by additional sites and choice for our Red Bag Shares. The Pilot came out of over a year of community engagement work with the Food Access Advisory Committee, a group convened by Healthy Hampshire, including residents of Northampton housing communities, to address barriers to healthy food access. Throughout the 10-week season, over $5,000 in produce was distributed.
The success of the Mobile Market Pilot confirmed our suspicions that expanding our complementary Red Bag Family Share to neighboring housing communities would be a welcome addition. Following the end of the Mobile Market Pilot, we continued to visit Hampshire Heights each week, delivering a farm share.
In addition, we added Florence Heights to the mix, a place that is often ‘left out’ because it’s outside of town and somewhat isolated. Getting to know families and their unique food access challenges has been really informative. It has been a pleasure to continue to see the same faces each week, through to the end of the growing season.
Our Red Bag Senior Share also changed to a choice model based on customer feedback. Fifty-five seniors enjoyed their weekly pick-ups which often included something extra like flowers, herbs and fruit. In all of these programs, the vast majority of produce is from Crimson & Clover Farm, with complementary offerings of fruit, corn, and other produce from other Pioneer Valley growers.
Giving Garden and Community Garden
Though it was a tough season weather-wise, our gardens on Meadow Street in Florence flourished. The Community Garden was home to 290 plots this season. One in seven of those received a 75% low-income discount on plot fees, compost, and seedlings to ensure that those who are able to come to the garden to grow their own food can save a significant amount of money in doing so. Nearby our Giving Garden grew 25 different types of vegetables and herbs, delivering over 8,200 pounds of produce to our partners! The most abundant crops were lettuce, summer squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, herbs and greens. The majority of our produce was donated to the Northampton Survival Center, MANNA Soup Kitchens, Star Light Center and the Easthampton Community Center. We also contributed food to a joint project with Abundance Farm, to Clinical & Support Options and to our own Red Bag Share.
How Our Farmers Contribute to Food Security
Over on the west end of our land, we subsidized 40 farm shares for low-income CSA members at Crimson and Clover Farm. At the end of the growing season 100% of participants reported that their diet is now healthier since joining.
“This program helps my family to eat local and much healthier. As a single mom, access to local CSAs helps me to feel better about the foods my family is consuming so that I can focus more on my education and work which is helping me to advance out of low income status.”- Crimson and Clover shareholder
In addition, most produce from the Red Bag and Mobile Market programs is acquired from Crimson & Clover Farm, which supported our shift to a “choice” model this year by allowing most produce items to go out “on consignment” as long as unsold produce was returned in excellent condition. All told, over $25,000 in Food Access program subsidies and purchases went to our anchor farmer at the Northampton Community Farm!
Another way that we connected local food with those who needed it in 2018 was by facilitating donations from local farms who lease land from us. This year we received donations from Joe Czajkowski’s Lakeside Organics, including over 6,000 pounds of butternut and acorn squash, organic Japanese sweet potatoes and peeled and cubed butternut squash, which we delivered to the Northampton Survival Center, the Easthampton Community Center, MANNA Soup Kitchen, and Star Light Center.
Tuesday Market is a Food Access Leader
Our broadest reach in our Food Access work happens at Tuesday Market, our 30-week farmers’ market in downtown Northampton. Customers who receive SNAP benefits can utilize them two ways at the market: the state-run Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) and our own SNAP Match Program. With HIP, households with SNAP can purchase between $40 and $80 in local produce, directly from farmers, at the market each month without reducing their overall SNAP benefit availability. SNAP benefits can also be spent at our market tent to purchase tokens to spend around the market, both at vendors participating in HIP and at stands where non-HIP foods like dairy and meat are sold. This year we offered a $10 match, giving customers the potential of $40 extra to spend at market each month. This program was generously funded by Valley Solar. In 2018, 184 families participated in our SNAP Match program. All total, SNAP customers purchased over $55,000 in local food at Tuesday Market in 2018, a $10,000 increase from 2017.
A Community-Driven and Community-Supported Approach
Creating access to healthy food is not a simple project. The barriers people face are complex and solutions equally so. One thing that we do well is to recognize this, and to design programs that create opportunities at different times, in different places, and in different ways. This year we also put ourselves in a position to learn from the communities we serve. This led to a better understanding of the complex challenges they face, and to relationships that helped guide how our programs run.
We are already looking toward 2019 and how we can build upon these successes, and are grateful to the partners, funders, community members, interns, volunteers, participants and municipal offices who helped us along the way. Funding for these programs was provided by: Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation, Community Foundation of Western Mass, the the City of Northampton’s Whiting Street Fund, Crimson & Clover Shareholders, Valley Solar, Cooley Dickinson Health Care, Healthy Hampshire, the Rotary Club of Northampton, River Valley Coop, the Jackson Street School PTO, and individual donors to Grow Food Northampton. Nearly all of these funders are local institutions who care as much as we do about making Northampton and the Pioneer Valley a great place to live for all its residents. We could not do our part without this amazing community support!