Across Delaware, programs work to improve access to healthy food by using innovative solutions that address food access challenges in a variety of contexts. While nonprofit organizations lead many of these programs, local and state government support for these programs plays a key role in helping them successfully reach and impact Delaware residents. For example, local and state governments can:
- Promote awareness and use of food access programs by using media and other resources.
- Ensure that zoning codes and other ordinances support programs that improve food access by means of local food production.
- Allow programs to use public space for local food production and sale, including community gardens and farmers’ markets.
- Provide funding for programs.
This section will explore several ongoing, innovative food access programs in Delaware. While nonprofits run many of these programs, keep in mind the government policies that allow them to flourish such as zoning that allows for farmstands, farmers’ markets, and community gardens.
Wilmington Green Box
Since 2016, the Wilmington Green Box has worked to bring people together and provide affordable, nutritious food right in the heart of Downtown Wilmington. Along side the fresh produce they provide, Wilmington Green Box sells a variety of healthy items such as freshly pressed juices and salads using fruits and vegetables from local producers. In addition to addressing the food desert problem by providing access to healthy food and nutrition education in Wilmington, the founders sought to help at-risk-youth. Several teens have been hired to serve in a variety of positions for the program. Beyond selling the produce and engaging with the community, these teens learn supervisory and entrepreneurial skills.
The Wilmington Green Box has been so well received that it has been able to expand its reach each year since it opened. In addition to hiring more at-risk-youth, community support has helped the Green Box reach further into Wilmington through the addition of a mobile cart and online ordering. By 2017, the Wilmington Green Box “served more than 3,000 people—over 65 percent are African-Americans who live in the local Wilmington community.” For more information, view the “Stories of Complete Communities: Wilmington Green Box” video, which is also available on the Complete Communities YouTube channel.
Bright Spot Farms
The Westside of Wilmington is home to another creative program that works to empower the community and improve access to healthy food. Bright Spot Farms is a nonprofit venture created by the West End Neighborhood House. West End established the program in 2010 to address food access issues and train and employ foster care youth. Bright Spot Farms operates urban agriculture locations and manages their produce throughout the planting, growing, and selling phases. They sell their produce through three local farmers’ markets and their own mobile market that operates throughout the Westside of Wilmington. At each of these locations, they sell produce at half price to SNAP and WIC beneficiaries.
Each year, the program works with 25 to 30 youth. In addition to available volunteer opportunities, Bright Spot offers two programs that train and employ youth: GROW Employment Training (ages 16–24) and the Young Farmers Crew (ages 14–18). Beyond farming and produce selling skills, the programs offer many relevant job skills including GED education, Microsoft Office training, and résumé assistance. Throughout each of these programs, Bright Spot emphasizes the importance of food justice and how community members, like these youth, can be a part of addressing food justice problems. Like the Wilmington Green Box, Bright Spot Farms has helped the community thrive by empowering and educating youth while also addressing food insecurity.
Lewes Farmers’ Market Living Lab
The Historical Lewes Farmers’ Market (HLFM) offers a novel approach to improving access to healthy food by developing methods for integrating farmers’ markets into communities. Farmers’ markets play a key role in improving access to healthy food by directly connecting local farmers with the community. However, the farmers’ market and community in Lewes understood that establishing farmers’ markets is only one part of improving access to healthy food. The HLFM sought to strengthen the farmers’ market and improve access to healthy food in the community by establishing a “living lab” that developed and tested strategies for improving farmers’ market access, sales, and attendance.
A “living lab” implements ideas in a farmers’ market and collects related data to assess the efficacy of these strategies. The mission of the HLFM calls for the market to act in “socially responsible” ways that support the community, so the “living lab” focused particularly on strategies that increase sales and attendance among SNAP participants.
After operating as a “living lab” for several years, the Lewes Farmers’ Market published Creating a Farmers Market Living Lab: Lessons Learned in Growing a Farmers’ Market. This publication details the methods the HLFM used to determine effective strategies for improving and supporting farmers’ markets. This publication is an asset to any community seeking to make its farmers’ markets accessible, affordable, and economically viable.
The publication synthesizes the experiences of farmers and market attendees and breaks down key takeaways from their experimental endeavors to provide communities with the following guidance to grow sustainable and thriving farmers’ markets:
- “How to Make Your Market a Living Lab”: Provides guidelines to develop and test strategies to improve access to and sales at farmers’ markets within the context of a unique community.
- “Lessons Learned of Interest to Farmers/Producers”: Local farmers are the backbone of farmers’ markets and local food access as a whole. These tips can provide local farmers with information that helps them form long-term, sustainable connections with the local community.
- “Lessons Learned of Interest to Market Managers”: While each stand may be run by independent producers, market-wide strategies can bring more people into the market and create a sense of community. The tips in this section help market managers to make farmers’ markets economically viable fixtures of communities.