Indy Winter Farmers Market makes inroads in addressing food deserts created by Double 8 store closures in July.
The sun’s early-morning rays peek through the glass window walls, bathing the vendors hawking their wares and shoppers browsing their booths in a soft glow. The scrumptious aroma of fresh, sticky cinnamon rolls wafts from a bread stand before pausing to mingle with the sweet aroma of a ripe cantaloupe from the produce stand beside it.
Market customers sip hot coffee and tea as they wend their way among the baked goods and produce, while outside sunbeams bounce off piles of snow—
Wait a minute.
You heard me right.
Beginning Nov. 14, the Platform building in the west wing of City Market will play host to the eighth annual Indy Winter Farmers Market. On Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. through Dec. 19, urban agriculture and healthy lifestyle nonprofit Growing Places Indy will transform a corner of Indy’s frigid winter landscape into a summer paradise.
According to the IWFM website, the market provides local farmers the opportunity to connect with the community by selling items such as fresh produce, baked goods, or natural cleaning products. IWFM manager Sarah Adams said shoppers will have the opportunity to taste artisan teas, pick out the perfect potato, nosh on nut butters, or even get their kitchen knives sharpened.
Adams said the market will welcome more than 60 Indy area vendors during the 2015 season, 13 of them newcomers. While she said some of the market’s new offerings this year include fresh-baked fruit cobbler and Belgian waffles, the market doesn’t only offer delectable baked goods like pumpkin pie croissants and lemon-drop brownies.
Adams said one of the market’s major goals is to offer healthier foods to those whose options are limited. In support of this goal, the market accepts SNAP benefits (food stamps), and also offers the Fresh Bucks and Eat Well Initiative SNAP matching programs.
“The statewide Fresh Bucks program matches up to $20 per week on all fresh fruits and veggies,” Adams said. “We also have the Eat Well Initiative, begun years ago at the IWFM, before there was a Fresh Bucks program. The Eat Well Initiative matches the other SNAP-eligible products not covered by Fresh Bucks like meat, bread, honey, and eggs.”
Adams said these two matching programs double the purchasing power of each SNAP dollar spent. According to Eat Well Initiative Coordinator Liz Wertz, “Together, these programs help families in our community eat healthy, while also supporting local farmers.”
Wertz said shoppers wanting to obtain SNAP, Fresh Bucks, or Eat Well Bucks tokens can visit the IWFM information table, where a staff member will debit their Hoosier Works card and provide them with the appropriate tokens.
“All of our vendors go through SNAP training and display clear signage as to what tokens are accepted at their booth,” she said. “Our goal is to make using SNAP an easy, fun and educational process while at IWFM.”
Wertz said over $3,000 in SNAP benefits were spent at the IWFM last year. Combined with Fresh Bucks and Eat Well Bucks, she said “SNAP recipients bought over $6,000 worth of products from local family farmers and small-batch producers.”
The number of Indianapolis residents without access to fresh produce spiked after the spate of Double 8 Foods store closures near the end of July that left some areas ‘food deserts,’ meaning that residents of these areas do not have access to a grocery store within walking distance.
“With the closure of the Double 8 Foods stores around town, acceptance of SNAP benefits is even more crucial to Indianapolis families,” Adams said.
While the market’s last Saturday at the Platform will be Dec. 19, the IWFM won’t be done for the season. Following its stint at City Market, the market will relocate to the Maker’s Trail at Circle City Industrial Complex (1125 E. Brookside Ave.) from Jan. 16 through April 29.
“This new location is just one block east of the Cultural Trail and Monon Trail off 10th Street and puts us squarely in a USDA ‘food desert’ as well as a Federal Promise Zone,” Adams said. “With this new location, we will be able to feature many more vendors each week, free parking, and a return of food trucks.”
Not only will the relocation provide more vendor variety, but “moving to the CCIC in January 2016 will greatly help combat Indy’s food desert problem,” Wertz said. “The Near Eastside ranks among the worst in the nation for access to fresh and healthy foods. By moving to our new location, we will be within walking distance to neighborhoods that may not have any other options for purchasing fresh vegetables.”
In addition to the market’s expansion to a second Near Eastside location, Wertz said that with the help of a recently awarded USDA Farmers Market SNAP Support Grant, IWFM will also work to expand its Eat Well Initiative over the course of the next three years.
“We plan on using this funding to increase awareness for IWFM and the SNAP Matching programs,” she said. “In addition to awareness, the [grant] will provide educational programming to our SNAP patrons. These hands-on workshops will range in topics from at home cheese making to container gardening.”
“Fair food access is a true issue in Indianapolis, and the IWFM is proud to be one of the many Indy organizations helping combat the issue.”