It was a warm and sunny Monday on May 15 when the Citiparks East Liberty Farmers Market opened for the first time this season. There was a trickling stream of people browsing fresh produce and beautiful cut flowers.
Emily Tokarczyk, a resident of Garfield, was one of the first visitors of the year to the Just Harvest Fresh Access tent, where she was able to use her SNAP (Food Stamp) benefits to receive Fresh Access tokens to use on a variety of fresh foods at the market.
Not only does Emily Tokarczyk visit the farmers market with her daughter once a week, but she also occasionally works with a vendor, Red Star Kombucha, usually at the Peters Township and the North Side weekly farmers markets. When she’s not working at the markets she works as a community doula.
Emily appreciates that the Fresh Access Program allows her to use her Food Stamps to get fresh food for both herself and her daughter. What she finds especially helpful are the coupons that allow people who spend $5 with their Food Stamps to receive $2 in Food Bucks from Just Harvest to use on fresh fruits and vegetables at the market.
This allows people like Emily and her daughter the ability to stretch their dollars and consume more nutritious, fresh produce.
A retired home health aide, 66-year-old Arline Solomon visits the East Liberty market with her little Pomeranian, Teela, every week. She was always told that she was a hero for working with underserved populations. She balks at that.
Because of her dedication, Arline says that people expected her to work for nothing, but after retirement, social security benefits didn’t stretch far enough to put food on the table. She got a part-time job but then was disheartened to find that her SNAP benefits decreased from $125/month to only $16/month, the absolute minimum for SNAP benefit receivers. She was told that she made “too much” money when really she was just barely making ends meet.
With the decrease in her food stamp benefits, Arline says that she truly wouldn’t have been able to purchase fresh produce without the Fresh Access Program. She explained that while East Liberty is technically not a food desert – an area where it’s hard to access affordable, fresh, and healthy food staples – the best produce is at the most expensive stores. The stores that boast big savings generally also have low quality produce.
Farmers markets offer a new alternative for Arline. She was able to sum up her favorite thing about the farmers market in just one word: “Fresh.’ She also enjoys how conveniently located the market is to her house. She said that the Fresh Access program has absolutely improved her community, and “has given us something that we wouldn’t otherwise have” – namely, access to fresh produce.
When Phylicia Dashoff realized that the return of her boyfriend from Israel was going to coincide with the start of the East Liberty market, she knew that she had to bring him along. A Boca Raton native, Phylicia did not grow up going to farmers markets because they were not as conveniently located as the East Liberty market is to her new home in Pittsburgh.
She is currently an education justice fellow for Repair the World, and decided to apply for SNAP benefits this year when she realized that they could help her stretch her small service-year stipend. She loves the convenience of the market and the quality of the produce.
Last year, Phylicia was not receiving SNAP benefits. This year she is but she didn’t know that shopping with Food Stamps at this farmers market would allow her to receive extra Food Bucks to spend on fruits and vegetables. She feels that this year she’ll likely buy more produce as a result. Phylicia is excited to purchase fresh produce and cook a meal with her boyfriend while he is visiting, and excited that this will also allow her to “support local businesses and farms.”
Phylicia believes that the vegetables sold at the market are higher in quality and more affordable than at local food stores. When asked what she likes best about the farmers market, she cited the convenience, saying that the produce is “tastier, fresher, cheaper, and easier to carry home!”