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Funding Fresh

shoppers hit the farmers market

The Carlisle Farmers on the Square market attracts droves of shoppers looking for the freshest locally grown and produced foods. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Student research project helps make local, fresh, healthy food affordable

by Tony Moore

Head into any grocery store, and you’ll see that the price of fresh produce often puts up a barrier to healthy eating. Pair that with the fact that 11 percent of Americans are food insecure, which means that they don’t have regular access to nutritious and safe food. So for people who might have to decide between stretching their dollars and eating healthy foods, that barrier might be insurmountable.

As a way to make fresh food more accessible for people living in poverty, Carlisle’s Farmers on the Square and food bank Project SHARE offer Fresh Match, a program that allows food benefit recipients to double the value of their dollar benefits when shopping at the Farmers on the Square farmers market.

Funding for such programs is often limited, and the summer of 2016 was set to be Fresh Match’s last.

So as part of Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Heather Bedi’s spring Environment and Society class, students studied local poverty, demographics and the farmers market; researched the connection between health and access to fresh food; and wrote grant proposals aimed at obtaining additional funding for Fresh Match.

“We could have examined poverty, health and food access in any major city in the U.S., but our review of them in Cumberland County helped us address these pressing concerns in our own backyard,” says Bedi, who often focuses on place-based learning, through which students can gain a personal understanding of the people, cultures and environments that create particular places. “This [approach] allowed students to recognize local challenges and innovations, and the partnership with the Farmers on the Square provided a tangible way for students to understand these issues first hand.”

The grant proposal that Farmers on the Square eventually sent to the Highmark Foundation for consideration was developed with the help of the students, Bedi and Cheryl Kremer ’90, Dickinson’s director of academic and foundation relations. And the efforts paid off: Fresh Match was granted $2,000, enough to maintain the program through this summer.

“Fresh Match helped me see that there is always much more that you and your community can gain by becoming more informed about both problems and potential solutions in your area,” says Allison Curley ’19 (earth sciencesItalian studies), who had previously volunteered for Project SHARE. “A program like Fresh Match shows a commitment to growing and strengthening the community, and I hope that by talking to friends and faculty about my experiences I can encourage people to go to the market and support the program's goals of building community.”

Bedi says that learning the complexities of the grant-writing process is invaluable for students, and the knowledge just might be invaluable for the program itself.

“My spring 2017 Environment and Society class will study local food access and will work to support the Fresh Match program,” she says. “The initial grant to support the Fresh Match program was written by a Dickinson student, and ultimately I hope that one of my future classes or other Dickinson students will develop an innovative program or means to financially support this vital community program for years to come.”

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Published June 21, 2016