Written by Mike Koch

Thank you Councilmember Alexander for this opportunity speak with you about Produce Plus and the positive change it has made for our customers, our farmers, and our community. My name is Mike Koch and I am the Executive Director of FRESHFARM.

FRESHFARM respectfully asks that the Council support Produce Plus by increasing the 2017 budget to $1.2 million and lengthening the season to November to ensure that DC residents can access fresh, local food regardless of income.  

FRESHFARM runs 8 producer-only farmers markets in Washington, and 5 more in the broader DMV. Through our network of markets, we provide the residents of Washington DC with access to fresh, local food. The farmers and producers who sell in our markets come from the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, including; Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Their hard work ensures that the local food shed continues to grow and thrive. At each FRESHFARM farmers market in DC we run our Matching Dollars program, which provides customers who shop using SNAP, WIC, or SFMNP, with a match of up to $15 - thereby doubling the amount of fresh food these residents can purchase. Our markets and programs serve to guarantee that healthy, local food is affordable for all who seek it.

FRESHFARM farmers markets have also served as Produce Plus distribution sites since 2014 and hope to continue to provide this service in the future, as we have already begun receiving inquiries from customers about Produce plus for 2016. In 2015, we distributed $59,000 in Produce Plus checks at our farmers markets. The District-wide redemption rate was 90%, which illustrates that participants valued the program and that they utilized the program in order to increase their fresh food purchases at farmers markets. This increase has also supported our local farmers, who are able to sell more of their produce, and can reinvest this increased revenue in their businesses. One farmer, Kip Kelley of Full Cellar Farms, was able to begin offering healthcare to his employees due to the increased revenue that resulted from Produce Plus.

Produce Plus has also increased the interaction that our staff and farmers have with customers. Our staff and farmers love to talk with these customers, which are affectionately referred to as our our “Plustomers.”  Staff and farmers engage these residents in meaningful and often educational conversations about the food they are purchasing.  In some cases, Produce Plus customers have personal recipes to they plan to make, such as their grandmother’s pickled watermelon. In other cases they want to make healthier food for their families, and our staff and farmers provide recipes or preparation suggestions. One customer, a mother who shops using her WIC and Produce Plus benefits, asked FRESHFARM staff to teach her how to make pesto and each week would try a different type of green. Often these customers return to tell staff about what they prepared and enjoyed from the previous weeks and to find new vegetables or fruit to prepare. We also have a number of customers who have asked for advice on how to freeze or preserve fruit and vegetables so they can eat them after their benefits have run out, or in the winter when less fresh produce is available. These on-going interactions with Produce Plus customers have helped our staff, farmers and our organization as a whole better address the very real issue of food insecurity.

Produce Plus has also caused FRESHFARM to look more closely at the communities we serve. When we examined the customers coming to our markets to receive and redeem Produce Plus checks, we noticed that nearly half were traveling to us from Wards 7 and 8 - two Wards where we do not run markets. This has helped to spur our planning to explore new access points in Wards 7 and 8, in order to ensure that residents in those areas have ready access to the fresh food for which they have shown a clear preference.

In short, we feel that support for Produce Plus has a demonstrated benefit and is crucial to the ongoing health of our communities and ask for your continued funding of the program.

Thank you.