Applications within the Ypsi space fight meals insecurity by facilitating entry to wholesome meals
When Alex Ball lived with his family in downtown Romulus as a teenager, the city’s only grocery store closed.
“I’d never thought about food that much before, but when the store closed and our neighbors couldn’t get fresh food, I asked myself, ‘How can I fix this?'” Ball says For 18 years I started researching, reading and doing a little backyard farming. “
With that first backyard garden began a journey that led Ball to become a farmer at the young age of 18 and eventually buy his own piece of land in Sumpter Township to start up Old town morning and help local residents gain access to affordable, nutritious, locally grown food.
He says that when he told his mother that he was going to be a farmer, she cried.
“They just knew that the farmers suffer. And that is a fact,” he says. “But I think we are in a new age of farming and they don’t all fit the same description.”
As a participant of the Fresh Food Box program, a new collaboration between the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and Try the Local Difference Local serving Ypsilanti and Detroit, Ball recently started accepting electronic power transfer (EBT) as payment for its products. He accepts alternative means of payment at his stand at the Ypsilanti Farmers Market and for participation in his farm’s community-supported farming program.
The Fresh Food Box program is just one way that farms and organizations in the Ypsilanti area are innovating this summer to address food security issues in the greater Ypsilanti area.
Fresh Food Box improves access for SNAP-eligible families
Kelly Wilson, Community Affiliate Director at Taste the Local Difference, says her organization has worked with MDHHS for several years on a variety of programs aimed at improving community access to local food.
The new Fresh Food Box program is a pilot project specifically focused on connecting farms and farmers markets that offer online ordering with customers who have SNAP and EBT, two forms of food service for low-income families. The pilot program serves Ypsilanti and Detroit, as both communities have high percentages of SNAP-eligible families, but organizers aim to expand the program across the state.
“We hope to gain some knowledge of best practice and a better understanding of how this project can work on both the consumer and agricultural side of things and slowly expand across the state,” said Wilson. “We have already identified two other communities that we will expand into next year, the western Upper Peninsula and Lansing.”
The program is primarily a marketing push to help SNAP-eligible families learn about farms and farmers markets that accept SNAP and EBT as online payment. Some community clinic partners screen their patients for food insecurity and refer them to participating farms. Taste the Local Difference also helped the Detroit and Ypsilanti websites figure out how to accept alternative payment methods if they haven’t already done so for every dollar the consumer spends.
In addition, Taste the Local Difference received funding from MDHHS to help farms with any technical support they need, from e-commerce platforms to distribution logistics, so that attendees can securely access food.
In addition to several participating Detroit locations, there are two in Ypsilanti: Growing hope‘s Online market for the Ypsilanti region; and Old City Acres, through Ball’s stall at the Saturday Farmers Market in Depot Town.
Dayna Popkey, farmers market and nutrition manager at Growing Hope, says the Fresh Food Box program is “wonderful”.
“It’s not really adding a new program, but rather marketing support to let people know that all of our farmers markets are accepting SNAP and doing Double Up Food Bucks,” says Popkey.
Produce at the Ypsilanti Farmers Market.
Popkey says certain programs that focused on coupons or tokens exchanged directly between groceries and consumers were “hit” during the pandemic as fewer people shop in person at farmers markets.
“But now things are increasing and there are more personal shopping options and people are going to get better benefits,” she says.
Pandemic spurs changes in the Food Gatherers summer food service program
Without the school lunch safety net, summer can be a hungry time for low-income families, especially in the greater Ypsilanti area.
“We know from historical data that zip codes 48197 and 48198 are more food insecure,” said Markell Miller, director of the Community Food Program for Food collector.
Food Gatherers has offered a summer food service program for school children for many years. This summer, the non-profit organization is operating more than a dozen of its 19 grocery collection points in Ypsi and Ypsi Township – with several significant changes triggered by a pandemic.
In the past, Food Gatherers served meals to groups of children who were required to consume the food on site that day in accordance with state and federal regulations. But Food Gatherers employees received waivers from the state that allowed them to tweak the program to make it more pandemic-friendly. Miller believes some of these changes could become permanent.
Food Gatherers employees using the delivery truck they use to deliver food to the Summer Food Service program locations.
An exemption allowed Food Gathers to ignore the requirement that young people eat their food where it is served. Another waiver allows parents to pick up frozen appetizers, milk and fresh fruit for seven days without the children being present. Another waiver allowed Food Gatherers to run summer food programs in communities that do not meet the requirement that 50% or more of families qualify for free or discounted school lunches.
Not only does the new guidelines make it easier for parents of school-age children in Ypsi and Ypsi Township, but it also makes it easier to access food for parents of students in rural areas like Milan, who may have to drive quite a long way to get there, free food says Miller.
These guidelines may not be available in the future unless Congress takes post-pandemic action to update the rules governing the program, she says.
“I hope that after the pandemic we can maintain this flexibility to provide families with food in a way that works best for families,” Miller says.
More information on the Fresh Food Box program is available Here. A full list of Washtenaw County’s summer meals is available Here.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On site at Ypsilanti. She has joined Focus as a news writer in early 2017 and occasionally writes for others Edition media group Publications. You can reach them at [email protected].
Alex Ball Photo courtesy of Old City Acres. Ypsilanti Farmers Market photo by Misty Lyn Bergeron. Food Gatherers Photo courtesy of Food Gatherers.