Join Us on the Journey
This season’s update from Shawn Menard, Seacoast Eat Local’s Executive Director, discusses current initiatives to shape our work.
This month is the one-year mark when we kicked off our inaugural season as market operators of the Durham, Dover, Exeter, and Portsmouth summer farmers’ markets. I discussed in a previous post the transition in market management if you need to brush up on the details. One thing that has become truly evident in this first year of operating the summer markets is that while each location has been successful in its own way, there is so much more that can be done to tailor the market to meet the needs of the area in which it operates. Before last year, we only operated winter markets, which included 12 market dates over the course of six months. Through operating the markets at a higher scale (87 market dates over the other six months of the year) we’ve found numerous opportunities to engage with the community at a higher level.
Over the years, we’ve responded to the needs of the community through listening and engaging. One of the best examples of this is our work as a regional leader in connecting low-income households that receive SNAP benefits to various local food outlets. The need we were hearing is that these households could not afford to shop at farmers’ markets. In response, we became pioneers of what is now a statewide network offering Granite State Market Match as an incentive to low income shoppers to stretch their SNAP dollars and buy more fresh food for their families. In our most recently completed fiscal year, $38,244 in SNAP benefits and $50,641 in matching incentives were spent at farmers’ markets, farm stands, and on CSA shares.
All of this was made possible by listening and responding to SNAP shoppers.
What you can expect from us over the next year and beyond is to see ways we are deepening our relationship with various members of the community, farmers and market vendors, community partners, municipalities, and other groups. We’ve done some foundational work over the past few months to set ourselves up for success in this area. This includes:
- -Bringing four new board members into the organization, all with unique viewpoints
- -Hiring a summer research intern to help learn more about market shoppers
- -Working with a facilitator to build a shared understanding of our current landscape for equity and racial justice within our organization and the communities we serve
- -Developing a framework to get more feedback from farmers and producers in a variety of different ways throughout the year
All of this is intended to help shape our mission and impact in a way that is most needed by local eaters and producers.
A lot about the food system has changed since we were founded 17 years ago. While many of you will continue to experience our programs in a similar way, many others of you will begin to experience new pathways to be positively impacted by our work. This won’t happen overnight but with the tactics outlined above we’ll gradually get to know ourselves better while also getting to know the needs of the community.
My invitation for you in the meantime is to:
- -Get to know your farmers and fellow consumers by striking up conversations at markets
- -Be on the lookout for surveys and opportunities to participate in focus groups
- -Share your feedback and ideas in whatever way is most convenient for you
Make sure to subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social media to learn about these opportunities as they come up throughout the year. I look forward to learning and growing along with you!