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If You Build It, They Will Come: Strengthening Community & Food Access

On a rainy Wednesday in late-April, the Field of Greens Market opened to the public at The Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in DC. Fresh locally grown and organic produce overflowed in display bins set up on folding tables lining the atrium of the The Nationals Youth Baseball Academy (Nats Academy). While the rain prevented the open air farmers market from being held outside, it did not prevent the local community from coming inside to shop.

 

Fresh food is hard to come by East of the Anacostia River in Wards 7 and 8, the area home to the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. In Wards 7 and 8, there are only 3 grocery stores to serve more than 148,000 residents. Driving miles to access fresh foods in other neighborhoods is not an option for residents, where nearly 50% of the community does not have access to a vehicle, and the commute to shop by public transportation is an unrealistic burden at best. Twenty-seven percent of residents in Ward 7 and 1/3 of residents in Ward 8 live at Federal poverty level, and the trend is only increasing, according to 2015 statistics gathered by the DCFPI. Without access to fresh food and affordable prices, it is a daily challenge for people to make healthy choices to feed their families. One outcome is there are higher rates of diabetes and a prevalence of chronic diet-related diseases, as evidenced in statistics by food advocacy groups. Moreover, studies show that children in food insecure homes are not able to focus and perform well in school. A lack of access to healthy foods is a public health issue.

 

4P Foods has partnered with The Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy and YMCA of Metropolitan Washington Food Programs to create a weekly CSA market selling shares of organic foods. The Nats Academy is a non-profit organization that provides academic enrichment programming for baseball and softball scholar athletes in Wards 7 and 8. A collaborative learning center, the Nats Academy facilitates health programs that enrich the lives of the scholars as well as the greater community. The YMCA of Metropolitan Washington Food Programs promote health and community through inspired cooking classes. Each week, teachers from the YMCA Food Programs hold classes for nutritious meal planning in the teaching kitchen at the Nats Academy. Together, community members prepare farm fresh foods from 4P Foods, learn how to cook dishes, and go home with fresh food to serve to their families. The YMCA Food Programs Team also hosts monthly community dinners, where a heart-healthy themed cooking class closes with a meal on the Nats Academy rooftop that overlooks the ball game at sunset. 4P Foods is proud to partner with both mission-driven groups to provide organic food to the underserved.

 

Walking through the Field of Greens Market, you can feel food as the community centerpiece. In fine weather, the market is held at the concession booth adjacent to the baseball field, where parents of scholar athletes watching the game, cooking class members, program staff, and the greater public can be found talking over fresh heads of lettuce, vine-ripened tomatoes, rainbow carrots, and more from that week’s harvest from our farm partners. Later in the season, a portion of food will also come from the Nats Academy’s own garden, the Field of Greens, located behind the baseball fields. Produce is sold by the bag, similar to 4Ps food share program, where shoppers may choose to customize their groceries based on preferences, dietary restrictions, and menu planning needs. The prices are subsidized for the families of academy scholar athletes, families who participate in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and local residents. Where typically a concession stand serves high-calorie, processed goods from the industrial food complex, the Field of Greens Market has reinvented the concession stand to offer nutrient-dense organic produce from our local distribution network of small, regional and family farms to the greater public. This is local food with a purpose.

 

Our mission at 4P Foods is to create a more just and equitable food system through partnerships with small family farms, nutrition-based organizations, and the continued support of our members. We believe all people should have access to high-quality, nutritious food. In fact, we are currently working towards modifying our weekly food share subscription model to soon be able to accept payments via SNAP benefits. Thanks to the USDA’s Community Food Project Grant, and our partnerships with The Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy and the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, there is a new place to purchase fresh produce in Ward 7.

 

We have plans to expand this food access program to an additional 10 to 20 locations throughout Wards 7 and 8 over the next three years. Already a success, The Field of Greens Market provides fresh food to communities that can now convene over produce from regional farms. “If you build it, they will come,” echoes the famous phrase from Field of Dreams. The Field of Greens Market has already seen terrific community support. 4P Foods is grateful for our community partners and for the opportunity to connect local residents with fresh organic produce. We welcome you to catch a game and see for yourself! The Field of Greens Market is open from 4-7:30pm every Wednesday through August, and is already scheduled to return for opening day in 2019, rain or shine.

 

Photos courtesy of Bryant Curry, Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.

Article by Abbey Gleason, 4P Foods.

 

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