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A Ride with Arcadia’s Mobile Market

I love spending a Saturday or Sunday morning at the local farmers’ market – wandering from producer to producer, sampling what’s in season and buying the treasurers for the week’s recipes. When I heard about Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture’s Mobile Market, I was intrigued. I inquired with Benjamin Bartley, the Mobile Market Director, and JuJu Harris, Culinary Educator and SNAP Outreach Coordinator, whether I could volunteer and help them with the market one day. They graciously said yes.

Normally, the Arcadia Mobile Market is housed in a brightly painted green school bus.

Arcadia's Mobile Market Bus

The Wednesday I volunteered, the bus was in the shop with transmission issues (FYI, the poor thing has been having regular and significant “health issues.” Contributions to Arcadia for a new bus I’m sure would be gratefully welcomed.)

Instead of the bus, JuJu pulled up to the first stop, the South County Center along Route 1, in a pick-up truck loaded with crates full of locally produced fruits and vegetables, coolers of equally organic and local milk and yogurt and an assortment of artisanal bread. The majority of the Mobile Market’s offerings are grown at Arcadia Farm; however, to supplement the offerings, the Mobile Market sources from Arcadia’s agricultural partners.

Let me say that a mobile market is a lot of work. As is obvious from the title, a mobile market has many stops during the day. That means that at each stop, the truck needs to be unloaded, the tent, table and crates of fruits and veggies set up. And – you guessed it – at the end of the two-hour market stop, everything has to be broken down and reloaded into the truck for its journey to the next stop. On Wednesdays, the Mobile Market makes three stops. Yeah, a lot of work.

What I really wanted to see first-hand at the Mobile Market were federal food assistance programs in action. Specifically, the Mobile Market accepts SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as “Food Stamps”), as well as WIC (Women, Infant, and Children) and Senior FMNP (Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program). The Mobile Market also features a “Bonus Bucks” program to match the value of these benefits up to $10 when used at the Mobile Market. The Bonus Bucks program is made possible by partnerships with INOVA, Power Supply, and Wholesome Wave.

The market started out fairly slowly, a few customers here and there. The WIC and SNAP customers, mostly women, were extremely scrupulous in the selection and quantity of the items they wanted to purchase. Each item was evaluated for usefulness for the week as well as value in the quantity that could be purchased. One lady with three beautiful children chose an assortment of potatoes, peaches, nectarines, zucchini and milk to fit within the Bonus Bucks match available to her using SNAP.

The second market stop, near Children’s National Hospital in D.C., attracted a much bigger crowd. Clearly, many of the hospital workers and local residents come to this market to shop. Benjamin joined JuJu and me at this stop with another truck to resupply the market with more bread, sweet potato greens, watermelon and plums. Customers using SNAP and WIC chose items judiciously and, in some cases, they would try an item that they had never sampled before in order to leverage the full value of the Bonus Bucks.

There’s the great Chinese proverb that says, “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

Being involved in just one day of the Mobile Market helped solidify the understanding in me that programs like SNAP, WIC and Senior FMNP must be sustained in order to help those in our community have access to locally sourced, healthy food.

For more dialogue about SNAP, check out these posts from AGree’s blog:

http://www.foodandagpolicy.org/content/four-key-facts-about-snap

http://www.foodandagpolicy.org/content/time-recognize-snap-works

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