A busy summer Saturday morning at the Great Barrington Farmers' Market. Photo courtesy Great Barrington Farmers' Market

Farm Market Table: Celebrating an accessible, sustainable food system

The pilot program, modeled on what a lot of markets across the country do, is rooted in a fundamental belief: The rich, local agriculture system belongs to everyone.

Great Barrington Farmers’ Market managers Kate Burke and Bridgette Stone. Photo: Meg Haley

Great Barrington — There is a collective identity that revolves around the rich and diverse local food system in the Berkshires; come summer, it is celebrated each Saturday at the Great Barrington Farmers’ Market, where a panoply of local produce and vendors hawking their edible wares converge upon the Jane Iredale Cosmetics parking lot on Church Street between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Over the past two summers, the work of GBFM market managers Bridgette Stone and Kate Burke has hinged on a simple fact: The same food culture that many celebrate often feels inaccessible to those in lower income brackets. In an effort to combat food insecurity and make locally grown food accessible to everyone in our community, GBFM proudly presents “Farm Market Table: A Night of Storytelling Celebrating the Power and Purpose of Food.” The event, slated for Saturday, April 27, at 5 p.m., will take place at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center; all proceeds will go toward GBFM’s Market Match program, which helps to double nutrition assistance checks for shoppers at the farmers’ market.

“People really join together around food,” said Stone. In fact, a commitment to making local food accessible to our community is the cornerstone of what drives the GBFM. Stone and Burke, who are about to embark on their third summer as market managers, quickly identified that there was an opportunity to do some fundraising around this issue of accessibility. “We are all here together,” said Stone in a recent phone interview, in a nod to second-homeowners, locals who have lived here forever, and those who are struggling. Stone points to the GBFM as “valuable, enjoyable, but not always accessible [to all],” which is why much of her work has hinged on nutrition assistance programs that effectively break down some of those financial barriers.

Great Barrington Farmers’ Market doubling tokens. Photo courtesy Great Barrington Farmers’ Market

“Our market prioritizes making [local food] available to all,” emphasized Stone when describing the Market Match program. In 2015, the program took off with the help of Jane Iredale Cosmetics and the Berkshire Food Co-op, which offered matching funds, dollar for dollar, up to $25 each week for eligible shoppers. The pilot program, modeled on what a lot of markets across the country do, is rooted in a fundamental belief: The rich, local agriculture system belongs to everyone. In 2015, $900 in funds were disseminated ($450 from SNAP, and $450 matching). Last summer, a whopping $22,000 in funds were put to use thanks to SNAP and matching funds alone. This program has grown to include fiscal sponsors Lee Bank and Greylock Federal Credit Union.

Colorful summer produce at the Great Barrington Farmers’ Market. Photo courtesy Great Barrington Farmers’ Market

“This is pretty incredible [considering] all that money stays in the local economy,” said Stone. In other words, it’s a win across the board. Farmers enjoy the demand for their products and all families gain access to fresh, local produce. To date, nutrition assistance sales make up about 20 percent of the overall produce sales at the GBFM (including WIC, SNAP and FMNP). And the process is simple: a SNAP card holder visits the market managers’ tent, $25 is deducted from their EBT card, and the shopper receives $50 in tokens to use at the market. “We are increasing their benefits,” said Stone, but perhaps more importantly “[we are bringing] more shoppers to the market who might not otherwise come.”

The Great Barrington Farmers’ Market is a 29-year-old producer-only market in the heart of downtown Great Barrington. You can find it at 18 Church St. every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mother’s Day weekend until the last Saturday of October. The market proudly doubles SNAP up to $25 per market, as well as WIC and Senior Farmers Market checks. Each market features over 30 local food vendors, live music and community events.

Joey Chernila and Lisa Landry at the No. 6 Depot booth at the Great Barrington Farmers’ Market. Photo courtesy Great Barrington Farmers’ Market

“Storytelling seems like the right jumping off point to starting a regular, community event,” said Stone. Joey Chernila, who has hosted Inkless storytelling events at No. 6 Depot in West Stockbridge, will host the event which will include, among others, Doria Pollinger, Susan Sellew, Dan Nielsen, Andy Davis, Molly Comstock, Barbara Cohen and Jake Levin. Additionally, there will be space at the end of the program if audience members feel inspired to put his or her name into the hat.

“[Joey] is so great at drawing stories out of people and celebrating the diversity of community around a certain topic,” said Stone. “He’s really talented and also very much a part of the market,” she added, noting that his wife, Alana Chernila, served as market manager prior to the tenure of Stone and Burke, effectively having “brought [them] into the fold.”

“Farm Market Table” will feature farmers, cooks, local food heroes, and neighbors sharing their stories about the power and purpose of food. All ticket sales will benefit the Market’s SNAP, WIC and Senior Check doubling programs—one step toward a more resilient, accessible and sustainable local food system. In an effort to welcome everyone to celebrate and support food in our community, tickets to Saturday’s event are offered on a sliding scale: Full-price tickets are $25; half-price tickets are available by using code gbfm; and SNAP card holders get in for free. For tickets and more information, see the Berkshire Edge calendar.