My Afternoon as MFM's Token Master: Reflecting on the value of Double Up Food Bucks  - by Victoria Alvarez

My Afternoon as MFM’s Token Master: Reflecting on the value of Double Up Food Bucks – by Victoria Alvarez

July 8, 2016 |  by  |  Blog, News  |  1 Comment

Late in the morning, on a rainy Sunday, I am strolling down southeast seventy-ninth, heading from Burnside to Stark. The rain is heavy, and I am quickly marching past the older, well-managed homes of the Montavilla neighborhood. I reach the market a few minutes before my volunteer shift as token master is set to begin. Despite the torrential rains, interrupted by periodic breaks of marvelous sunshine, the market is abuzz with patrons. An eclectic mix of Sunday strollers mill about the fresh wares, sampling local honey and Chelan cherries, while the scents and sounds of the vendor stalls fill the air. The peonies are brightly colored, and bundled in bouquets expertly wrapped in crisp, white paper by the couple at Chang’s fresh cut flower stand. Overall, I am impressed by the number of people, although later, Katie, the Montavilla Farmers Market Volunteer & Financial Coordinator, will tell me it is a rather slow event, comparatively.

A few minutes before noon, I approach the information booth. I am a little nervous, as I prepare to meet up with Katie, who is all set up to show me the nuances of Montavilla’s token master position. Katie quickly puts my nerves at ease. She knowledgeably, and skillfully, walks me through the steps in using the market’s card reader to transfer funds from debit and SNAP EBT cards, into token currency redeemable throughout the market. Logs and receipts are kept to track debit and SNAP card purchases and payouts, and the token master is also charged with explaining how the two types of tokens are redeemable throughout the market, in addition to clarifying the nuances of the Double Up Food Bucks program. It is this last point that sparked my interest in conducting my volunteer work with the Montavilla Farmers Market to begin with.

As the mother or a young child, who found myself an unexpectedly unemployed, single mom, the SNAP program has quite literally allowed me to be where I am today. I started working when I was seventeen years old, and never looked back. I worked full time, while putting myself through college (the first time), so the need for public assistance programs was never really on my radar. I knew that when I was young, and my baby sister was born, my fledgling parents struggled, and relied on food stamps, to see us through, but as soon as we were old enough to go to school, my mom went back to work, and we moved on from the program. Now, in order to finish my degree and re-enter the workforce, as well as raise my three-year-old daughter without any family living nearby, working enough hours (hours when I am available, not when I am needed to be available) to support the two of us right now, is a logistic nightmare. Being able to depend on a social safety net, such as the SNAP program, is the hinge point that allows this endeavor to be possible. Knowing that guaranteed funds will be available every month to put food on the table, is a relief that gives me the luxury to complete my higher education journey, and raise a well-fed child.

Knowing just how hard I have to work in order to make the SNAP funds we receive last an entire month, makes me incredibly enthusiastic about what is going on within Portland’s farmers market network. Markets, such as Montavilla, are going out of their way to develop plans that stretch the benefits dispensed to SNAP recipients, while encouraging shoppers to make healthy food choices in spending their benefits on fresh, local produce, as opposed to highly processed, nutritionally deficient foods found in grocery and convenience stores. Speaking with Gretchen Jackson, MFM’s original market manager, who has been involved with the market since co-founding it in 2007, I learned that the Everybody Eats fund has been instrumental in creating a healthier Montavilla community, by working to create a thriving market in the neighborhood. The token redemption system was developed in-house by MFM board members, who were able to solve the problem of redeeming vendors for SNAP purchases via a token currency system.

FoodBuck

This year, expanded funding initiated the Double Up Food Bucks program, which allows markets throughout the state to match SNAP token purchases up to an additional $10. In this way, a SNAP recipient can stretch $10 into $20, just by spending their benefits at a local farmers market. At a time in post-recession America, where more citizens are taking advantage of the need to collect SNAP benefits than many of us realize or care to admit, this is a program that can make a big impact in people’s lives, my own included.

As I spend my two-hour shift familiarizing myself with the token redemption process, I begin to take note of those who come to the information booth to purchase SNAP tokens and receive Double Up Food Bucks. My main observation, is that there is no stereotypical SNAP recipient. I witness single people, couples, and families make SNAP token purchases. Older members of the community, and college students stop by the table. Visitors from multiple ethnic groups and those from, seemingly, various levels of socioeconomic status approach the information booth, with a SNAP EBT card in hand. A mother with her adult son purchases SNAP tokens, as she explains the benefits of the Double Up program to him. Most market-goers know the routine, and those new to the system are especially thrilled when they learn the specific benefits of using their card at the market. Throughout my shift, many of them return to purchase more tokens, even though the additional tokens are not doubled again until their next visit. I am delighted by the energy and joy everyone seems to be displaying at being able to make so many healthy food choices.

As the market comes to an end, Katie shows me how to close up the token master station. I gather my belongings, thank Katie for her time, and begin my journey home. I wait for the bus, thinking about just how lucky we are to live in a society that is funding and supporting local farmers, and citizens wrestling with food insecurity. I recall a piece from the Times, a photojournalism feature from a book by photographer Peter Menzel, entitled Hungry Planet: What the World Eats, that showcases images of families around the world, alongside a week’s worth of their groceries. The disparities in how we access food in this country are vast, but the chasm between the US and the third world is almost unfathomable. As I think about all of the cuts our legislative branch makes to programs such as SNAP, under the claims that these welfare programs incentivize laziness and abuse of funds, I am grateful that I can still put any food at all on my table right now. The mental image of a family living in a refugee camp in Chad, surrounded by barely anything we recognize as sustenance in this country, reminds me that the problems of food insecurity are many, and they are far-reaching. Continuing the conversation, allowing one another to see the situation of food insecurity from a vantage point other than our own, is critical to making sure “Everybody Eats.”

On a Sunday afternoon, in weather nearly forty degrees warmer than two weekends prior, I return to the market for another stint. I need to capture photos, and get clarification on a few points for my final presentation. Even in 100-degree weather, the market is humming. Again, Katie notes that the weather is driving numbers down a bit, but I am impressed by the turnout nonetheless. I have made the decision to volunteer at the market every other Sunday during the summer, and to attend the market on the Sundays in-between with my daughter. There is no way I cannot turn down the opportunity presented by Montavilla to stretch $40 worth of SNAP benefits into $80 worth of fresh, local produce throughout the month. Volunteering also gives me the chance to promote something I feel good about, which, in this day and age, can be a rare opportunity.

As the sun beats down on the glistening Montavilla market-goers, and staff members, I am hopeful about the state of the world for the first time I can remember in a long while. Playing a small role in solving a larger social problem has an energizing effect. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in an education system that sees the value in community activism, and I am thankful for an occasion to take an active part in a cause that means something to me on a personal level. I look forward to a summer of continuing to make a difference in the fight to increase food security for Portlanders.

Volunteer - Victoria Alvarez

Victoria volunteering at the info tent, helping market customers get their tokens and Food Bucks.

 

 

Abundant Fields Farm: Naturally Grown vs. Organic - by Alexa Bell

Abundant Fields Farm: Naturally Grown vs. Organic – by Alexa Bell

June 28, 2016 |  by  |  Blog, News, Vendor Profiles  |  No Comments

In Orient, Oregon, east of Portland and just outside Gresham, is situated a small farm known as Abundant Fields. Run by Rick Reddaway and his family, the farm produces a variety of vegetables to be sold at Montavilla Farmers Market. Upon approaching the cash register at the Abundant Fields tent, customers may notice the sign hung in plain view informing customers that all the produce sold at Abundant Fields is “Certified Naturally Grown.” But what does it actually mean to be certified Naturally Grown? And how does it compare to its more commonly-known alternative, organic certification?

“Certified Naturally Grown” (CNG) is not a label a farm can simply slap on without anything to back it up. There are qualifications that must be met, much like the USDA’s more commonly-known organic program. These guidelines are very similar to the USDA guidelines for organic farms. Certified Naturally Grown farms such as Abundant Fields cannot use any synthetic pesticides or herbicides on their crops. Furthermore, they must utilize sustainable farming practices that conserve both soil and water. Rick fertilizes his crops with compost approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), and utilizes drip irrigation as a watering technique in order to minimize water waste as much as possible.

Despite the major similarities, there are a couple key differences between being Naturally Grown and Certified Organic. For one, Naturally Grown certification is more forgiving of farms that cannot use organic seed one hundred percent of the time. CNG farms are simply expected to follow certification guidelines for growing non-organic seeds. The Naturally Grown certification program also utilizes a greater variety of sources for their yearly inspection – while certified organic farms are only inspected by USDA employees, Certified Naturally Grown farms can be inspected either by fellow CNG farmers, or by customers themselves. Rick has always chosen to have Abundant Fields inspected by other CNG farmers.

In essence, the Certified Naturally Grown program was created as a direct alternative to organic certification for the sake of farms that generally utilize organic methods, but for whom official USDA sanctioning is too impractical and costly. This should not be mistaken to mean that Rick is any less devoted to sustainable practices, however. According to Rick, it “simply makes sense” to grow his crops in the most sustainable and environmentally conscious way possible, regardless of certifications or labels. Despite the unfortunate reality that he must sometimes order regular seeds over organic seeds, he makes a point of ordering organic seed whenever possible, and never purchasing GMO seeds. Furthermore, he hopes to upgrade Abundant Fields’ certification to Certified Organic eventually – the farm’s current certification is a stepping stone to this goal.

The importance of the Certified Naturally Grown program as a cheaper alternative to USDA organic certification cannot be underestimated in light of the fact that many market patrons today expect organic practices from vendors. According to Rick, one of the main reasons he decided to obtain Naturally Grown certification is because he was continuously being asked by customers whether or not his produce was organic. The official endorsement that Naturally-Grown certification provides helps keep the farm competitive and thriving, while also keeping operational costs manageable.

Ultimately, the differences between the USDA organic program and CNG are fairly small. For relatively new farms such as Abundant Fields, the CNG program provides an official guarantee of organic practices that is more practical and affordable than the USDA organic label. However, the USDA Organic label likely has more credence in the eyes of the public, so Rick and other farmers like him strive to develop their farms to the point that USDA Organic certification is a possibility. If we as consumers wish to support Rick and other CNG farms in their efforts to provide the Portland area with the most organic and sustainably-grown produce they can, then we must do our part to keep farms like Abundant Fields operating and growing by purchasing their goods whenever possible and encouraging others to do the same.

Visit the Abundant Fields website at www.AbundantFieldsFarm.com

DLR_2929

 

Pictures thanks to MFM volunteers, Lisa Sikorski and D.L.Reamer.

Market Shopping Basket - June 19th by Katrina Emery

Market Shopping Basket – June 19th by Katrina Emery

June 23, 2016 |  by  |  Blog, News  |  No Comments

I arrived at the market first thing in the morning, and was immediately smitten with the smells, colors, and mostly the samples, at the market this Sunday. My husband and I both spread out, finding our treasures before combining our haul into a delicious grilled  summer feast that night!

It started with Lamb Merguez, a fresh sausage with North African flavors, from Scratch Meats. At home I added a quick flatbread to the grill (a chapati recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian), then grilled up zucchini from Simplicity Gardens, sprinkled with za’atar seasoning. As a side salad I threw some sautéed Romano beans, also from Simplicity, along with some cherry tomatoes I already had, in a vinaigrette. For dessert, we kept the grill going with huge ripe apricots from Baird Family Orchards, grilled then drizzled with TBees honey in their “mystery” flavor. It’s not actually a mystery, just a delicious mix of pollens instead of one single strain.

With the addition of a jar of Felton and Mary’s Artisan Foods medium barbeque sauce, my bags were filled up, but my coulda shoulda woulda list ran long. A sip of Lion Heart’s kombucha to go with the piles of fresh oysters from Hayes Oyster Company. Chicken from Cerigioli Gardens to be drenched in said barbeque sauce, and some gigantic black radishes from Glasrai Farm on the side. It was all I could do to resist the smells of tamales wafting from Mixteca’s big metal tamaleras.

A few weeks ago I snagged a pepper plant from Lil’ Starts. It’s an heirloom variety called Black Czech, and grows purple black peppers similar to jalapenos. Owner Lillian Klimaszewski gave me some tips for planting and maintenance, and now it’s flowering with tiny purple blooms. Here’s hoping I can keep it alive and thriving!

Lil Starts pepper

Market swag for celebrating your MFM love!

Market swag for celebrating your MFM love!

June 10, 2016 |  by  |  News  |  No Comments

Introducing the latest t-shirt design! MFM’s 10th season is represented by the fast growing pea shoot, and the promise of more tendrils and more years to come. We are so thankful to The Make House and Leslie Beia for again creating such a fabulous t-shirt for us. Stop by the Info Tent and let us find a size and color that’s just right for you. Outfit yourself in MFM style for only $20.

We’re also excited to introduce this season’s poster from the imagination of food writer, designer, and former MFM board member, Rebekah Hubbard. We think she captures the spirit of MFM beautifully. Take home your own copy for $10.

And we still have MFM yard signs, available free, to put up in your corner of the neighborhood.

All swag proceeds benefit your community market. Let’s celebrate MFM’s 10 seasons and growing!

MFM poster

Taste of the Market: Salad Greens

Taste of the Market: Salad Greens

June 9, 2016 |  by  |  News  |  No Comments

Every month we feature a seasonal food by offering samples to taste of all the varieties brought to market that day by our farm vendors. This time around we’re presenting salad greens! Red and green lettuces, butter lettuce, baby greens, fresh herbs and more. You’ll be able to taste test them side by side, vote for your favorite, and share recipe ideas with fellow market goers. Bring the family or a friend, come hang out at the tasting table and see what’s fresh at the market this week!

Meet the Board: Dana Small

May 26, 2016 |  by  |  News  |  No Comments

Dana SmallDana is a longtime supporter of the Montavilla Farmers Market and has been a Montavilla resident since 2007 where she maintains her own organic garden with beautiful vertical pumpkins.

Originally from the agriculturally rich Central Valley of California, some of Dana’s earliest memories involve picking and eating under-ripe apricots and running for dear life from her babysitter’s rooster. Dana has experienced first-hand the importance of supporting small farms through her longstanding work in the social services field. Here, she has served food insecure Oregonians and campaigned for food justice for over a decade. In addition to her various volunteering and board experience, Dana is a founding member of Portland’s roller derby league, the Rose City Rollers, where she was on the All-Star travel team and coached the Rosebuds youth league.

Dana enjoys nature and doing just about anything tactile: dance, playing sports, creating art, and exploring the outdoors with her family. Dana aspires to always try new things and to become a master gardener. Dana loves the farmers market and gardening so much that she sometimes wets her PLANTS. She looks forward to meeting you at the market!