August 8, 2023 | Main Spotlight: Fighting Hunger at the Roslindale Village Farmers Market | By: Marta Olmos, Communications Coordinator at Main Street America, and Anna VanRemoortel, Executive Director at Roslindale Village Main Street |
- Farmers markets are powerful events that can connect communities, support small businesses, and fight hunger.
- Key partnerships and government programs, like SNAP/EBT, can help you leverage your market to increase residents' access to fresh food.
- Main Streets can use their role as a connector to build stronger local food systems.
Farmers' markets are a staple of many Main Street communities. They are often beloved community events full of life, music, families, and local food. But farmers' markets can do a lot more than bring people downtown—they can be tools to reduce hunger and help people buy fresh, healthy produce. A leading example of this approach, Roslindale Village Main Street in Boston, Mass., uses SNAP/EBT and the local Food Justice Coupon program to increase equity and access at Roslindale Farmers Market. I spoke to Anna VenRemoortel, Executive Director at Roslindale Village Main Street in Boston, Mass., to learn more about their market and the ways that Main Streets can strengthen local food systems.
How did the Roslindale Village Farmers Market start? What does it look like?
We started our farmers' market in the late 1980s, just as Roslindale Village Main Street was getting started. We knew that farmers markets had the potential to increase foot traffic to highlight our local businesses and make our downtown a vibrant place to be on a Saturday morning. When we started, we were in a parking lot and didn’t have many farms. But now we’ve grown to one of the largest neighborhood farmers markets in Boston with many farms, specialty food vendors, and craft vendors. While Roslindale Village and our farmers market have changed since the 80s, we still find that the market has a great impact in supporting local businesses and fighting hunger in our community.
One special part of our market that was added as we have grown is our free programming! Every week we have free children’s activities, wellness activities, and musical performances. Almost all of our performers and entertainers are from Roslindale or Roslindale-based businesses. It provides an enriching experience for the community while supporting our small businesses.
We also offer reduced-fee stalls to any local business in Roslindale Village who would like to participate in the market. For example, one of our cafes sells lobster rolls at the market throughout the summer and a local art studio sells pottery made by their students! While the market serves the business community through increased foot traffic, we’ve also found that having businesses set up stalls allows them to make strong connections directly with new customers.
How does the market help increase access to fresh foods?
We have been accepting SNAP/EBT for years and we have set up a system which allows all of our qualifying vendors to participate. We process all of the SNAP/EBT transactions at our information table, which takes the burden off of small farms which may not have the technology required to accept this payment. This also allows us to pass out relevant information about other food access programs to our SNAP/EBT customers. We feel that it’s incredibly important to accept SNAP/EBT and we require all of our food vendors to participate in this program. While farmers markets can provide access to fresh food there is still often a barrier when it comes to cost. Accepting SNAP/EBT ensures that everyone in our community can have access to locally grown produce.
In addition to SNAP/EBT, we participate in the City of Boston’s Office of Food Justice Coupon Program. The Office of Food Justice distributes farmers' market coupons to organizations supporting low income residents. People can then bring their coupons to our market and use them like cash. We help to coordinate the reimbursement process to our vendors and educate the public about how to use these coupons. In 2022 alone, we processed $91,084 in SNAP/EBT and coupon benefits at the market, a 18.5% increase from 2021!
Can Main Streets play a role in fighting hunger in their communities?
Absolutely! Main Streets have a unique ability to make connections across the community with city services, other nonprofits, and small businesses. This allows us to creatively form partnerships to address the needs in our community. Throughout our history, we have connected our vendors to community fridges, our SNAP/EBT recipients to farms, and city resources to our residents. We have found that fighting hunger can be a collaborative process with everyone in our neighborhood and Main Streets can be the grassroot connector we need to solve the complex issues our communities face!
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