Every month we will be highlighting an affordable farm market that is a part of the HAELFS Collaborative. HAELFS stands for Health, Access, and Equity in our Local Food System. The Collaborative is in its third year and includes five pantry resource centers. Since the collaborative has begun, each partner site has opened an affordable food market in their community. Each market creates access for everyone in their community to acquire nutritious food at a low cost. Produce available is sourced from local small farms, stimulating the local economy. Together, we are working to create a culture of health within our communities. This month we are highlighting SECOM Resource Center, read more about the work they are doing in our interview with Chelsea Totten, Neighborhood Services Coordinator, below:
What does your look like now? What are you sourcing? How do you stock your ?
Our Market design displays the farm style look in a simple and inviting way. Our Market appearance is very important; we want everyone feeling comfortable to shop here. We know the importance of food education, so we have a small section filled with food and nutrition materials along with healthy and affordable recipe books that Neighbors are welcome to use.
With our HAELFS grant we are currently sourcing from a couple farms directly and from FarmLink, a food aggregator. During the summer and fall months, when produce is more abundant in Michigan, more of our purchasing is done directly from local farms. Two of our consistent farms during the winter are Visser and Rakowski Family Farm. In our farm stand you will find mainly organic fresh fruits and veggies, along with frozen produce, a variety of beans, eggs and honey.
How has your organization overall leaned into the objectives of the HAELFS Collaborative? What changes have you made?
SECOM Resource Center has adopted a culture of health organization wide. Before the HAELFS grant, SECOM had a Healthy Food Policy in place pertaining to our Food Pantry, we participated in Nutritional Options for Wellness (NOW), operated a community garden, and offered nutrition classes. Since receiving the HAELFS grant we have made a few key changes in programming that further expands our culture of health approach.
One of the most important changes is that we strive to bring the voices of our Neighbors into whatever conversation we are having. This has looked like focus groups, community planning sessions, survey feedback, community events, hiring Neighbors as SECOM staff, and more one-on-one conversations with Neighbors around what they want to see at SECOM and in this Neighborhood. This also includes addressing roots causes of poverty. SECOM is committed to addressing the underlying issues of food insecurity.
Over the last 3 years SECOM’s Market has only sourced from Michigan farms. This sourcing has gone right back in to our local economy and creates opportunities for everyone in our Neighborhood to succeed. SECOM believes that our farmers are just as important as our Neighbors shopping at our stand. We value our farmers and are proud to be able to buy from them and offer our Neighbors some of the healthiest and most delicious Michigan produce. One of Chelsea’s favorite things to say to shoppers, is that she can tell you exactly where that food is coming from. Connecting and building relationships from farmer to shopper is key piece to having a healthy food system.
Our garden model has changed to bring our Neighbors together in growing and sharing food. We went from a rental plot model to a sharing garden. Plants and seeds are provided by SECOM, and everyone participating works together; planning, prepping, planting, weeding, harvesting and eating. The sharing garden model has increased the amount of food grown, and help builds relationships within the community. Over the last few years we have identified the garden as a key way to connect our programming to our intent to address food justice, and empower our Neighbors as part of and a result of their engagement.
What relationships have you built because of the ?
Our Market stand has built many relationships, including those with our shoppers, farmers and volunteers. The Market is a concept everyone stands behind because it has the best interest of everyone at its core. Therefore this has created many meaningful relationships throughout the last 3 years. The Market creates opportunities for a variety of meaningful conversations – whether it’s having a discussion about what a regular shopper is making, or connecting with a Neighbor struggling to buy elsewhere because their food stamps were cut, or talking with farmers about livable wages and organic practices. The Market at SECOM also includes someone who is not food insecure helping operate the stand and donating time in support of our operations. We value all of these relationships and they are what help make the Market’s mission possible.
What are your dreams for the
We have lots of dreams for this Market stand. One of them is to see our Market take on its own space, including a teaching kitchen, up by the garden. This would increase awareness of our Market, growth of food options and allow for more food and nutrition classes. Our hope is that this Market would provide better access to healthy, local and affordable food for our community, by becoming a more permanent and valued piece of this community. And the community would ideally not just include Neighbors who are currently receiving services or shopping the Market; we hope to see (more) income eligible employees of neighboring businesses utilize the Market as part of their regular shopping experience. The dream is to see more support and partnerships between shoppers, donors, farmers, and volunteers to bring healthy living to our neighborhood.
What is your fastest selling produce item?
We consistently sell a lot of apples, onions, eggs, black beans, potatoes and honey. During the Michigan growing season tomatoes, berries and zucchini are by far our biggest sellers.
What is one thing you would want everyone in your community to know about your ?
I would like to invite anyone to come take a look at the Market, shop, and donate. Since the Market started 3 years ago, it has grown a lot. It has become a place for Neighbors to stretch their financial resources, have access and build relationships with the community. I would also like to remind our Neighbors again that they can shop the Market as often as they’d like, plus every time they shop they get a punch on our loyalty card for an extra discount after 10 shopping experiences.