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Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration focused on issues of food, fuel and field. Based at KCUR in Kansas City, Harvest covers these agriculture-related topics through an expanding network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest.Most Harvest Public Media stories begin with radio- regular reports are aired on member stations in the Midwest. But Harvest also explores issues through online analyses, television documentaries and features, podcasts, photography, video, blogs and social networking. They are committed to the highest journalistic standards. Click here to read their ethics standards.Harvest Public Media was launched in 2010 with the support of a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Today, the collaboration is supported by CPB, the partner stations, and contributions from underwriters and individuals.Tri States Public Radio is an associate partner of Harvest Public Media. You can play an important role in helping Harvest Public Media and Tri States Public Radio improve our coverage of food, field and fuel issues by joining the Harvest Network. Learn more here.

People of color don’t feel welcome at many Midwest farmers markets. New efforts aim to change that

 Farmers markets are predominantly white spaces across much of the country. A new initiative aims to change that.
Provided by the City of East Lansing
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Farmers markets are predominantly white spaces across much of the country. A new initiative aims to change that.

For some Midwesterners, farmers markets are a quintessential summertime tradition touting local, healthy food and laid-back community gathering spaces.

But people of color say many markets aren’t designed with them in mind, and in fact, systematically exclude them from participating. That’s why the Farmers Market Coalition gathered a group of experts to design an anti-racist toolkit to help markets transform into more welcoming, inclusive spaces.

 "If you really want to attract a particular market, then it's important to have the foods that that market wants," said Julialynne Walker, who helped develop the anti-racist toolkit.
Farmers Market Coalition
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"If you really want to attract a particular market, then it's important to have the foods that that market wants," said Julialynne Walker, who helped develop the anti-racist toolkit.

“[The goal is] to get people thinking,” said Julialynne Walker, a market manager based in Columbus, Ohio, who helped design the toolkit. “Like in terms of messaging, you know, how do you step back and look at the kinds of material you're using, look at your market, look at the vendors, and at each level the process. Ask yourself, ‘What is the message being sent if I were to look at this from a different perspective?’”

Although calls for a more equitable and welcoming farmers market system have existed for years, the Farmers Market Coalition began working on the toolkit in the fall of 2020, when much of the nation’s focus turned to racial justice following George Floyd’s murder.

Market managers, vendors and shoppers of color alike say they don’t feel welcome at most farmers markets due to exclusive messaging, market locations and even product availability.

“A couple of times, I would walk in and say, ‘Which vendor has okra?’ or ‘Which vendor has collard greens?’ And they would just look at me, ‘Well, none of our vendors,’” Walker said. "Well, I don't want kale! You know, so if you really want to attract a particular market, then it's important to have the foods that that market wants, otherwise we won't come.”

Part of the problem is the lack of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) vendors at farmers markets – due in large part to systematic discrimination in the agriculture field.

“I can only speak for my market, but when I walk around, there might be one or two vendors from a Hispanic descent or ethnic group, but there are no Black vendors being represented,” said Karla Forrest-Hewitt, a farmers market manager in East Lansing, Michigan, who also helped with the toolkit.

 “I have three little boys, and I want them to have the same access to healthy food that I did when I was growing up," said Karla Forrest-Hewitt, who grew up in Jamaica.
Provided by Karla Forrest-Hewitt
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“I have three little boys, and I want them to have the same access to healthy food that I did when I was growing up," said Karla Forrest-Hewitt, who grew up in Jamaica.

Ensuring that people from all backgrounds feel welcome and represented at their local farmers market is not only a fundamental right – it’s also a community health issue, Forrest-Hewitt said.

“There's a disparity in chronic health issues and lifestyle issues that can be reduced or helped by access to healthy food,” she said. “So by creating more welcoming spaces, it will help uplift the entire community.”

While the newly-released toolkit hasn’t been widely implemented yet, many Midwestern markets have taken steps to become more inclusive over the past few years.

In Illinois, market managers are working to better advertise to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients, whose benefits are worth quadruple at some farmers markets than at the grocery store. SNAP recipients’ attendance at Illinois farmers markets has increased as a result.

And in Nebraska, local food groups recently received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reach underserved populations in their market advertising. They created a website in Spanish that includes a map of all the farmers markets in the state, and have also run print, digital and social media advertisements to reach Spanish-speaking populations.

Despite these efforts, experts say farmers markets – especially in the Midwest – have a long way to go. Michigan-based market manager Forrest-Hewitt said she hopes someday farmers markets here look a little more like the ones in her home country, Jamaica.

“I have three little boys, and I want them to have the same access to healthy food that I did when I was growing up,” she said. “Because in Jamaica … when you go to the market, everybody looks like you.”

Follow Dana on Twitter @DanaHCronin

This story was produced in partnership with Harvest Public Media, a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest. It reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues. Follow Harvest on Twitter: @HarvestPM.

Copyright 2022 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

Dana Cronin is a reporter based in Urbana, Illinois. She covers food and agriculture issues in Illinois for Harvest. Dana started reporting in southern Colorado at member station 91.5 KRCC, where she spent three years writing about everything from agriculture to Colorado’s highest mountain peaks. From there she went to work at her hometown station, KQED, in San Francisco. While there she covered the 2017 North Bay Fires. She spent the last two years at NPR’s headquarters in Washington D.C., producing for shows including Weekend Edition and All Things Considered.