Sunday, November 18, 2012

When I say "farmers," you say "market!"




I love my work. I do not much love public speaking, however. And yet the two overlap more and more these days.

Take the pre-Thanksgiving rally this past Saturday, where my self-proclaimed "sister from another mother," JoAnn, who runs the outreach program for the World Missions Church, introduced me to her congregation of 300+ families. She asked me to say a few words to the crowd of low-income residents who had gathered to pick up boxes of food -- collective contributions from a number of local organizations. I spoke for a few minutes about the local apples and sweet potatoes donated by the Bloomingdale Farmers' Market, and the food assistance programs that we offer (and match up to $10 per benefit) each weekend. Food stamps, WIC, senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program vouchers... I can almost give the talk in my sleep by now, but each time I'm in front of a group I still get a little nervous.

The turnout on this chilly, sunny morning was quite impressive. So, too, was the positive energy. JoAnn's encouragement and help connecting me with her people made me a little choked up. (It wasn't just the wind making my eyes a little watery.) She really gets what we're trying to do: make healthy food accessible for everyone, regardless of age or color or income.

"Wait, so let me get this straight," my co-speaker bellowed into the microphone. "You mean you can use your food stamps at the farmers' market on Sundays and get free food? Wait, wait, wait. Hold on there. You mean if I spend ten dollars on my food stamp card, I get another ten dollars to spend on more food at the market? That's a deal!"

"Yes, that's the idea," I confirmed, as she handed me back the mic.

I can't tell you how many folks came up to me as over the next half hour I slowly made my way from the stage past the food pickup tables over to where I had Ollie locked up. They'd ask me for copies of our market postcards, or what fruits and vegetables we'd have at our final market of the season the following day, and how much we would match each week ("$10 per benefit, per weekend," I assured them). From what the market director, Robin, tells me, there were a number of new shoppers at today's market, quite a few of whom had heard about it -- and the various federal assistance benefits that BFM accepts -- during yesterday's rally. Hooray!

So this getting over my aversion to public speaking is a good thing, since I suspect Robin will want me to do something similar next spring. I may start to dread it less, especially when I am so warmly received and the positive impact is so visible. So, neighbors, keep showing up at our farmers markets... I need the positive reinforcement.

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