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City Of Pittsburgh To Be More Hands-On With Farmers Markets Come Springtime

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Farmers markets across Pittsburgh will be back this spring, and the city plans to do more to encourage their growth.

A new report outlines three goals: to increase its support to farmers market managers, facilitate collaboration among different markets and collect more on-site data that could help develop promotions and improve operations.

Shelly Danko+Day, the urban agriculture and food policy specialist for the city, said a study on farmers markets was commissioned to better understand how to improve them. The city of Pittsburgh operates seven farmers markets, and Danko+Day said they sometimes fell behind independently owned markets in places like Bloomfield and Market Square.

"Doing a study on how we can improve our farmers markets, and not just the ones that the city owns ... I felt was really important to look at that as the base of our food system and how we can start to improve it," Danko+Day said.

Improving equitable access to fresh produce plays a significant role in the report, which recommends the creation of a Pittsburgh Farmers Market Network. The role of the network will be, in part, to secure long-term funding for a program that gives people who use food stamps at farmers markets extra money to buy produce.

The Fresh Access program is an initiative of Just Harvest and the Philadelphia-based Food Trust. For every $5 paid for by food stamps at participating farmers markets, the customer receives an additional $2 to spend on produce, called "Food Bucks." There are 22 participating Fresh Access sites in Pittsburgh, and more than $13,700 in Food Bucks were distributed in 2017.

The Food Trust will also be launching an ambassador program for five neighborhoods in and around Pittsburgh. These ambassadors will be embedded within a community, and spread the word about local farmers markets and the Food Bucks program. The ambassadors will serve the North Side, Homewood, Wilkinsburg, Rankin and Clairton.

"We find that residents spreading news about the program through word of mouth is one of the most effective ways to get more people aware of it," said Julia Koprak, a senior associate with the Food Trust. "Once people hear about this program, folks are pretty excited to participate because it’s a great benefit."

The ambassador program is modeled off of existing ones in Cleveland and Indianapolis.

Kathleen J. Davis covers news about just about anything at WESA. She’s also the primary reporter and producer of WESA’s weekly series Pittsburgh Tech Report. Kathleen originally hails from the great state of Michigan, and is always available to talk about suburban Detroit and Coney Island diners. She lives in Bloomfield.
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