For residents of downtown Holyoke, many of whom do not own cars, it is difficult to get fresh produce when the nearest grocery store is miles away. Without grocery stores, diets revolve around the food available within walking distance: wilted produce from corner bodegas and high-fat, low-nutrition items from fast food chains. The harder it is to access fresh food, the faster the rates of obesity climb and lead to health problems among both children and adults in the community. To address such diet and health education concerns, the Holyoke Farmers Market established the goal of making fresh, healthy food more easily available in the community.
Seven vendors sell at the thirty-year-old market, offering a convenient place at which low-income residents can use federal and state subsidies such as WIC and EBT to supplement their diets. The market is constantly evolving to better provide nutrition and food education that meets the downtown community’s needs. One of the market stalls, for instance, is managed by Nuestras Raices (“Our Roots”), a youth organization that grows produce on urban farms specifically to meet the culinary desires of Holyoke’s Latino community.
Though the Holyoke Farmers Market is not yet self-supporting (due in part to the challenge of attracting more affluent suburban customers to buy at the market), it makes the most of its location next to important civic institutions. Across the street is City Hall, where people can pick up their WIC vouchers. Also neighboring the market are the Holyoke Health Clinic, where uninsured community members receive free and low-cost healthcare, and the Holyoke School Department, which coordinates field trips for 358 Holyoke youth participating in summer enrichment programs and issues coupons worth up to $1,790 that they can spend at the market.
The market has built partnerships to help sustain its finances, pay the market manager’s salary, and place advertisements for the market on city buses. A partnership with the Holyoke School Garden Program allows youth to sell the vegetables they grow at the market and then use the proceeds to support the garden program. Working with kids, in turn, gives garden organizers the opportunity to educate parents about healthy, nutritious food. Thanks to such innovative partnerships, the market is reaching a wider base and attracting more and more residents to its stalls.