March 20, 2019
In Ypsilanti, Michigan, Growing Hope works to reduce food inequity and inequality among their fellow residents. Growing Hope’s vision is to see Ypsilanti transformed into “a community where all people–particularly those with barriers due to race, class, culture, language, ability, and mobility–have access to nourishing local food that is culturally appropriate and affordable, can grow and prepare their own harvests, and may earn a living as a food grower, producer, or entrepreneur.”
The organization is helping Ypsilanti residents to achieve that community vision by increasing food access through their two farmers markets, garden mentorship program, garden-based nutrition education programming in schools, and food entrepreneurship assistance offerings. In 2017, a Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grant helped Growing Hope to deepen their work in strengthening community relationships with farmers markets.
“FMPP work fits in with Growing Hope’s work as far as creating more food access for the community and specifically creating access to fresh, local, seasonal, sustainably produced food, at locations that are convenient, and places that are culturally appropriate for their community,” said Erica Bloom, Growing Hope’s Assistant Director, and Bee Ayer, Program & Operations Director, in a recent interview with NSAC.
FMPP is a competitive grants program originally created in the 2002 Farm Bill, which aims to increase and strengthen direct producer-to-consumer marketing channels. FMPP was expanded to become the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) in the 2014 Farm Bill, and then reauthorized in the 2018 Farm Bill as a subprogram of the new Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP).
LAMP partially combines FMLFPP with another federal program dedicated to bolstering local and regional food systems: the Value Added Producers Grant Program (VAPG). By combining these two important programs, the 2018 Farm Bill improved the efficiency and effectiveness of each, while also ensuring permanent mandatory funding for both. To read more about this innovative new program, see our deep dive blog on LAMP in the 2018 Farm Bill.
In total, 19% of Ypsilanti farmers market sales are from food assistance. The markets accept 7 different types of nutrition currency, including SNAP, Double-up Bucks, WIC, and Senior Project Fresh.
Growing Hope’s FMPP grant helped them to dig deeper into their community’s needs and how best to address them. Their goal for the grant was to make farmers markets more accessible, and to make shopping at them a positive experience for the people they work with. To achieve these goals, Growing Hope began asking questions about different demand drivers for getting food like, “where do folks shop?” and “how do they make those decisions?”
As Growing Hope identifies the answers to these questions, they can improve the experience that community members have at farmers markets, and also transform customers’ relationship and connection to food overall.
“In doing specific outreach and research in our community and have identified 3 specific target audiences that we’re working with this year: the lower-income Latinx community, the Black community – specifically families and moms who are SNAP eligible, and people who have extra income and are already interested in purchasing local food,” said Ayer.
“For each of our target audiences we have been meeting with community leaders, organizations, and individuals and talking to them about their experience at the farmers market, their knowledge about the farmers market, what they’re looking for and how we could improve the farmers markets to better serve them.”
FMPP has given Growing Hope the resources to address market outreach and promotion in ways that are appropriate for their community.
“We’ve known for a long time that our markets needed some more attention around how we’re marketing and doing outreach and promotion and we really saw this as an opportunity to actually get dedicated funds to do some of this work that doesn’t really happen day to day,” Bloom explained. “Day to day we’re really just trying to run the market, and doing this allows us to have some of the energy and staff to step back a little bit and do some of the focused introspection about who we are as a market, within Growing Hope, and within the community – from the farmer and vendor perspective and from the consumer side.”
Working with other organizations and community partners is one of the ways that Growing Hope began to identify and address some of these barriers to community engagement in farmers markets. In order to find the most effective ways to connect producers and consumers, Growing Hope brought on board a marketing firm, a videographer, and a community agency that works on health outcomes specifically within Latinx communities. They have also been able to hire a Market Outreach Coordinator with FMPP funds.
“Now we have someone from West Willow, who is from the community and understands the needs,” says Bloom. “He is providing us with the outreach arm of the market, and that is something that we definitely wouldn’t have done without FMPP. Doing actual community organizing and community research that has public benefit is costly. Most farmers markets don’t have the ability to do that, it’s normally just large chains.”
In 2018, Growing Hope had 82 farmers market vendors and supported 9 new and beginning farmers who went into local or regional food production. They have used a portion of their FMPP grant funds to expand their downtown Ypsilanti farmers market, which is now one of the few markets in the region that operates year-round both indoors and outdoors.
Thanks to support from programs like FMPP, farmers markets in the city of Ypsilanti, and many others around the country, are continuing to grow. As for Growing Hope, they plan to continue developing their programs so that they can expand their reach across the community, and in turn expand economic opportunities for the local farmers who sell at their farmers markets.
Categories: Local & Regional Food Systems