Farmers markets often get labeled as unrealistic for the average consumer — a luxury that can double or triple the cost of produce.
But one non-profit, Harvest Home, has worked to change that and to bring fresh produce from local farms into low-income neighborhoods. And now as the food stamp program — or SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — is under attack in Congress, their mission is more important than ever.
On a recent visit to Harvest Home’s Harlem market, families stood in line to exchange their SNAP benefits for fresh produce ranging from apples to tomatillos. Farmers work with Harvest Home to subsidize the prices so that the costs are comparable to produce elsewhere. This market is just one of eighteen Harvest Home markets across the Bronx, Bookyln, Manhattan and Queens. They are the largest operator of farmer’s markets in low-income communities.
Maritza Owens, the CEO of Harvest Home says that these markets are often the only place for residents to buy produce. “Most of the communities that we serve, are not served by supermarkets… or the community is relying on bodegas.” Without access, residents are more likely to turn to unhealthy options. “Most of the communities that we serve have high instances of diabetes, obesity and hypertension, and… as we’ve learned in recent years, one of the prescriptions for reducing some of these instances is a healthy diet… so what we’re providing is not just good quality food but almost like a prescription for good health.”
Chefs like Nils Noren of the Marcus Samuelsson Group in Harlem support Harvest Home because of the impact they have on the community. He noted, “Of course if your only options are fast food that’s what you’re going to go for. But if you actually have the option of buying good products and cooking with them, it’s going to be a lot better for you”.
It’s a program celebrating its tenth year, with a mission more important than ever…
Ali Rosen is the Founder and Host of Potluck Video, a site for food, drink and travel videos. On weekends you can find Ali attempting to not kill her herb garden and thanking her lucky stars for her CSA.