Veronica from Food For Free here—I recently visited our summer pilot of a new program: Market in the Park, a free farmers’ market offered in Danehy Park on Thursdays from 11:30-12:30. Here’s what I found:
What’s most striking to me about the whole experience is the sound of happiness: I hear splashing in the splash park. I hear laughing on the playground. And then there are vegetables:
“Hey Annabelle, guess what I got? Purple kale!”
“Can she eat anything yet?” Food For Free intern Ashia Aubourg is chatting with a woman carrying her baby. The woman replies, “Zucchini, blended. She loves it!”
“Tomato!” says a toddler in a bucket hat, holding up toddler-sized tomatoes, one in each hand. “Oh, you got the tomatoes!” replies his mom. “Okay, put them in the bag!”
“So nice and fresh! Thank you, see you next week!”
The sound of happiness is coming from adults and children as diverse as Cambridge itself. In fact, I can’t understand all of the words that are spoken—even though I’m well aware of the diversity of Our Fair City, I’m surprised by how many languages I hear at the Market in the Park.
Market in the Park: an opportunity to share the bounty
We have a lot of produce to go around during the summer—after all, for the many local farms who donate to Food For Free, it’s the height of the growing season. But food insecure kids are not in school, making it harder to reach them and their families. Market in the Park is, as Alanna says, “an opportunity to share the bounty.”
Just like our school “markets,” Market in the Park is available to anyone who wishes to use it—which means no forms to fill out, and most importantly, no stigma. Some people take a little, some people take a lot. Some say things like, “I don’t need anything, but I’m glad this is here.” Others fill up a whole bag and come back each week.
We chose our pilot location at Danehy Park knowing that many low-income families will already be there: “Each summer, Cambridge participates in a summer food safety net which distribute summer lunches for children who would normally access the school cafeteria,” Alanna explains. “Those lunches address the children’s needs, but not the family’s needs.”
Teamwork makes the dream work
The beauty of Thursdays at Danehy Park is that there’s a lot going on, and Market in the Park is just one part of it. The free meals for kids are a big draw for low-income families, but the array of activities has made this The Place To Be for families of all income levels and demographics:
There’s a kids’ craft project facilitated by young employees from the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program.
There’s a story hour, during which CPL Youth Services Librarian Jennifer Costa had the kids rapt with excitement and attention.
And then there’s the biggest draw of all: the Book Bike, which caused such a cheer that you’d think that everyone’s favorite pop star had just rolled into the park. Kids get to pick out a book to keep—no wonder they cheered so loudly!
Access to food, books, and outdoor play
As I biked back to the office, I realized how happy I felt that our new pilot program isn’t a standalone—instead, it’s part of a collaboration, addressing the needs of kids and families on multiple levels.
I’m well aware that kids are healthier, happier, and do better in school when they can rely on having enough to eat, without question, every day of the year. But research also shows that kids do better when they have plenty of books at home and opportunities to play outside. As Book Bike founder Liz Phipps Soeiro said to me, “When you look at children’s health holistically, you have to feed the mind and feed the body to have a healthy child.”
When people are getting their needs met—nourishment for both body and mind—you hear what I heard as I wheeled out of the park: the sound of happiness, loud and clear.