There’s nothing like wandering around a farmers’ market on a Saturday morning, perusing lovely heaps of product, chatting with farmers, vendors and neighbors, and soaking up the community vibes. It’s a pleasure enjoyed by lots of people, and yet remains inaccessible to so many. Access to farm-fresh food is at the heart of Chester County Food Bank’s mission, and is why we’re committed to our Fresh2You Mobile Market that brings produce to the people. It’s also why we’ve partnered with the Downingtown Farmers Market to offer an exciting new way to help lower-income neighbors combat food insecurity while gaining access to the wonderful world of farmers’ markets.
This year, Downingtown Farmers Market is the first and only farmers’ market in Chester County to accept EBT/SNAP (food stamps). That means that many of our community’s lower-income families are now able to shop directly from farmers for fruits and veggies, bread, dairy and more. We’re helping stretch those funds even further by offering an incentive program for EBT/SNAP shoppers. Every time an EBT/SNAP customer uses the card to make a SNAP approved purchase, he or she will be given Fresh2You Veggie Bucks, dollar for dollar, up to $10. Veggie Bucks can be used just like cash for future purchases of vegetables and fruit at the Downingtown Farmers Market. That means more gorgeous August corn and tomatoes, more September squashes and more October apples.
Lisa ONeill, the owner of Growing Roots Partners, the company that runs the Downingtown, Malvern and Eagleview Farmers’ Markets, says she’s been working for a year and a half to get the Downingtown Farmers Market approved for the EBT/SNAP program. The process required cutting through federal government red tape and applying for different grants for the equipment (iPads, card swipers and the apps). Finally, in June, thanks to the help of Lisa’s assistant Juliana Pash, the first few vendors began accepting the EBT/SNAP payments. Currently, produce, meat, dairy and bread vendors are set up with the payment system, and that list will expand in the coming months.
“Growing Roots Partners gets no money out of this,” Lisa said. “I just feel that farmers’ markets become an integral part of a community, and when a community has needs that we can address, I feel that’s our responsibility.”
Lisa explains that this relationship between Growing Roots Partner and the Chester County Food Bank has been strengthening for years. For the last four years, we’ve allowed the Eagleview Farmers Market to winter indoors in our warehouse from December through March.
To return the favor, Growing Roots Partners has given back to us: One year they did a one-ton spaghetti collection drive (they ended up collecting almost two tons!), and it’s now a tradition that they’ve brought a farmers’ market into our yearly open house events. Most recently, they held a fun family film screening at the Eagleview Farmers Market, the Ratatouille Hullabalooie, with proceeds donated to CCFB.
“This relationship is extremely strong … we’d love to continue to do that in other communities,” Lisa said. “We want to go into communities that have pockets of need and offer access to fresh produce, eggs, meat, you name it.”
We agree! The Downingtown Farmers Market, now in its sixth year, is such a great example of how farmers markets become an inextricable part of a community’s fabric. It’s a yearlong market that is held every Saturday morning in Kerr Park from 9 a.m.–1 p.m. and boasts dozens of vendors. Produce is on offer, of course, from locals like Frecon Farms and Old Homestead Farm, but there is so much more, too! Meat, dairy and eggs, sweets, treats, artisan pickles and vinegars and even dog treats are all available from local, independent vendors.
“Farmers markets cut out the middleman,” Lisa explained. “Farmers get fair prices for their food … it strengthens the whole community’s food system.”
Among the many weekly shoppers at the Downingtown Farmers Market is the town’s mayor, Josh Maxwell. “The Farmers Market has been a welcomed addition to the Downingtown community. Their partnership with the Chester County Food Bank further extenuates the Good Neighbor reputation we cherish,” he said.
Visit the Downingtown Farmers Market to enjoy all it has to offer, and be sure to help spread the word about the new EBT/SNAP program. We can’t wait to see even more of our neighbors there on Saturday mornings!
Want to learn more? Sign up for our newsletter and stay connected. You can also donate food, funds and time to help us achieve our mission. Call (610) 873-6000 to speak to someone about getting involved or request a tour. Check out our full Fresh2Market schedule here. Thanks to you, we’re growing a healthier community.
The Chester County Food Bank is the central hunger relief organization serving more than 120 food cupboards, meal sites and social service organizations throughout Chester County. We mobilize our community to ensure access to real, healthful food.
Photos, top to bottom: Pexels (first two); Priscilla White