Affordable Farm Market Highlight: North Kent Connect

For the next five months 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 North Kent Connect, read more about the work they are doing in our interview with Beverly Bouma, Market Coordinator, below:

1. What does your market look like now? What are you sourcing? How do you stock your market?

Our Farm Stand looks and feels like a little Farmers Market you might come across in a small town. We have a 3-glass door refrigerator, wooden produce stand, and two little wooden chalkboard stands we use to showcase our local products.

Currently, we are offering seasonal produce, eggs, honey and maple syrup through the HAELFS grant. We also have a variety of locally produced Pantry items such as sauces, artisanal cheeses, granola, and spices. These items are being paid for by a grant funded through Amway corporation.

We usually stock our Farm Stand on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Our heaviest traffic and sales occur on Fridays and Saturdays.

2. How has your organization overall leaned into the objectives of the HAELFS Collaborative? What changes have you made?

North Kent Connect has certainly leaned into the objectives set by the HAELFS Collaborative.

Our first objective was to expand our Pantry Market. We have planned for more space in our new building. The Farm Stand is a vital part of the build out and will have its own large space. It will look and feel more like a Farmers Market with about 700 square feet for us to continue providing fresh, healthy, locally sourced products for our community. We implemented a potentially sustainable plan with our color-coded dot system, allowing everyone in the community to shop our Farm Market. We also have accepted Senior Project Fresh Coupons, EBT/SNAP cards, and NOW program vouchers. Veggie vouchers are even available for people to purchase as a donation towards the Farm Stand, or to give as gifts. We have also had the opportunity to take our Farm Stand on the road as a mobile market, partnering with other community centers, and churches in our area. We hope to increase our time out in the community in the spring and once the bounty from Michigan’s growing season is in full bloom.

Our second objective is to foster a healthy environment. NKC has made large strides in creating a culture of health for our clients and community. We have an extremely successful Farm to Pantry initiative. Our curriculum and success rate for our clients to grow and learn about the local food economy, farming, nutrition and community awareness has been extraordinary. We have 6 large garden beds that we have opened up to our clients to help them learn about growing, canning, and preserving their own food. Clients learn about farming best practices, and it also opens up opportunities for them to work the soil and give back. In addition, we have implemented a Healthy Food Guide for our clients, staff and donors, with a focus on stocking fresh foods in our Free Food Pantry. We plan to hold cooking and educational classes for our clients to learn how to prepare fresh, whole foods as well.

Our third objective is centered on local food sourcing, where we have been diligently making connections with local farmers. This year we have sourced our food from approximately 25 different local farms, and our connections continue to grow. We feel we have impacted our local food economy by purchasing from local farmer at their prices and sowing into their programs. We continue to highlight the farmers we have purchased from and share their stories to our community.

3. What relationships have you built because of the market?

We have built many types of relationships because of the Farm Stand. The obvious ones would be with the Farmers that we partner with. We have also built relationships with distributers representing local farmers such as FarmLink. In addition to our community members/clients who frequent our Farm Stand as a supplementary food source for them. We also have built relationships with donors who have seen the vision and value in having a locally sourced, geared to income Farm Stand available for our community.

4. What are your dreams for the market?

My personal dream for the Farm Stand as the Market Coordinator here at NKC and Manager of the Farm Stand is to see fresh food needs being met in rural communities around West Michigan. I want our Farm Stand to reach people who can afford to buy at the green dot price, but also provide healthy food options for those in our community who cannot afford farm fresh produce at a retail cost, all the while preserving their dignity. Many times, our rural communities are forgotten about because of the demographics, and the perception of the working class living outside city limits. We have many communities around us that are considered the Working Poor, or the ALICE population. Our Farm Stand provides a unique place to bring local farmers, food producers, consumers and communities together. I want NKC to bridge the gaps in our food systems around West Michigan, and more so in northern Kent County. I hope that in the future, the NKC Farm Stand will be known as the Farmers Market to shop at, give to, support and volunteer at. My hope is to see other community members catching the vision and sharing in the blessing of this program.

5. What is your fastest selling produce item?

Our fastest selling produce are onions, apples, and squash.

6. What is one thing you would want everyone in your community to know about your market?

I would want everyone to know that we have created a sustainable dot system allowing everyone to shop our Farm Stand no matter which income level they fall under. I would want everyone to know that you don’t have to necessarily shop to support this program, but you can remotely purchase one of our Veggie Vouchers online and we use 100% of those funds to sow back into this program and allowing us to continue stimulating our local food economy, supporting our local farmers and allowing all income levels to have access to fresh local food all year long.

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