When I first read about the possibility of joining our local farmers market as a Food Access Advocate, I knew it was the perfect job for me. The Galveston’s Own Farmers Market is an intricate and special outlet for many reasons. Its groundbreaking impact has catapulted its beloved community-driven approach to not only providing quality and equitable food access initiatives but also serving as an undeniable and unapologetic place for health promotion, culture, inclusiveness, and community support. My memories started with this market over 10 years ago when I used to wake my children up earlier than usual on their precious Sundays to go and check out our local farmers market, which was such a novelty for them at the time.
This was an important realization for me because when I was growing up in Mexico, visiting my local farmers market was like an everyday occasion. I grew up in a small sugar cane rural plantation town in the North of Mexico, yet my 8 and 10-year-old children had never been to a farmers market. I knew when my children became more vocal about visiting the market that this place represented a unique opportunity to spend quality time as a family while also introducing them to locally grown produce and food that they would otherwise have never heard of or tried. My daughter was particularly fond of the food samples as she went around and tried everything she deemed “interesting and suitable” to eat!
Fast forward to 2022, and I find myself taking on one of the most unique roles of my life as a Food Access Advocate (FAA) at our local farmers market. My role as an FAA involved identifying areas in our community that could serve as food access awareness outreach points, ensuring families made use of the market’s SNAP voucher program, as well as translating program and social media communication to disseminate into the rising Latino community. This position allowed me to share this resource with people in my community and provide them with the same meaningful memories and access to nutritious and local foods that my children experienced 10 years prior.
Many of the events and outreach activities that I developed and coordinated at the farmers market in my community revolved around inserting ourselves with community service organizations and other community hubs like recreation centers and daycare centers. Our ultimate goal involved strategizing our presence in places where the Latino community was known to gather and build organic relationships from within. I reached out to several restaurants and hotels in our community as we are known as a tourist town, and much of our town’s Latino population is employed in the Hospitality sector. I even reached out to a few churches with a strong Latino congregation. Tapping into this unique and readily accessible market in my community allowed for more intentional outreach on our end while also ensuring we built awareness about our local farmers market and developed a rapport with the local business owners. It was an incredibly fulfilling and successful experience, to say the least. In the weeks that followed our outreach activities, the number of SNAP recipients and new visitors increased, and new community partnerships solidified.
None of this community-based work would be possible without continued Congressional support for farmers markets and the ability for markets to accept SNAP vouchers. Other federally funded programs like the Gus Schumaker Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) allow markets to build out these voucher programs and help to provide resources to do community outreach, and the Farm Bill should continue to support these important initiatives.
Reflecting on this role and my experiences at my community’s farmers market undeniably prompted me to revisit an earlier time in my life in which I remembered being a 19-year-old mother to a three-year-old son with another on the way and whose economic personal hardships, along with undocumented status, limited not only my plans for better opportunities but also the amount of food and nourishment that entered my home. During a routine prenatal visit, my social worker encouraged me to apply for government assistance via SNAP. As a first-generation immigrant, I was completely oblivious to the application process and the rights of my child, who was an American citizen. Through a very extensive application process, interviews, and a long list of documents I was asked to provide, my case was eventually approved, and the state awarded my child a monthly food allowance for three months at a time. These social services benefits played an undeniable role during my children’s infancy, positively impacting their health and upbringing. Being such a young mother, being connected to SNAP allowed me to give my children the attention and support they needed to thrive academically and socially by putting me at ease that I would be able to afford our next grocery run and provide them with nutritious food during their most important developmental years.
The farmers market offered an expanded opportunity for me and my family to engage with the community and bring more nutritious food to our home. The memories of raising my babies while being on SNAP and going to the market not only warrant my lived experience testimonial but undeniably serve as the foundation for my own personal and educational goals. These programs most definitely paved the way for my now college-age daughter, who received a full-tuition scholarship to American University in Washington, DC, where she is currently thriving as an incoming Junior pursuing a degree in data science for justice, law, and criminology. My daughter and I also recently launched our own non-profit organization, Dreamers Thrive, a local organization that seeks to empower and support Latino students and their families in pursuit of higher education in Galveston County.
I wholeheartedly believe that it is imperative to continue developing as well as supporting current efforts in the expansion of equitable access to SNAP benefits within our communities, including through farmer markets. Many families, even when having to resort to working two jobs, still face food insecurity, among other barriers, including stigma, language, transportation access, and more. Sadly, this is a far more common occurrence in our country than many would simply like to admit. However, supporting initiatives from on-the-ground organizations like your local farmers market may have a far-reaching, positive impact on struggling families who may simply need a more “outside-the-box” approach to access these beneficial resources.
The creation of this blog was supported by funding from Share Our Strength.