Written by Nicole Oveisi, Fair Farms Intern
For this month’s Partner Spotlight, we are highlighting the work of Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture. We got in touch with Pamela Hess, Executive Director, to get an insider’s look at Arcadia’s work and how that has shifted in light of COVID-19.
The current food system has specifically created barriers for low-income folks, a burden that is disproportionately borne by people of color. Arcadia started 10 years ago to address these gaps in the food system in Washington D.C. Pam noted that there are two food systems in this country, “one where people have access to healthy foods and cuisines from anywhere around the world, and one where people are heavily reliant on cheap products, low in nutrients, and high in calories, salt, and fat;” access to the abundant food system is dictated primarily by income and zip code. To address this inequity, Arcadia takes on the food system through a systemic approach, looking at long-term solutions that reconstruct the system rather than short-term quick fixes.
Arcadia has its own farm where they grow and cultivate quality produce on around 5 acres. The center offers education programs at the farm that focus on teaching children about the source and origin of their food. Their farm is treated as a campus for school children to learn about nutrition, school gardens, CSAs, and food access work. By providing youth with a hands-on experience, Arcadia can nurture younger folks to become food conscious while normalizing an appetite for healthy, nutritious foods.
According to the USDA, the nation needs 700,000 new farmers to enter agriculture over the next 20 years–that’s how many farmers will age out of the profession. Arcadia created the Veterans Farming Program in 2015 to create a path for veterans–tough, resilient and entrepreneurial, with a continued desire to serve their community–to become farmers. They have trained more than 100 veterans in the art, craft, and business of farming in the year-long training program, funded by the USDA and private foundations. More than a third of the graduates are now farming, and two-thirds are engaged in agriculture in some way.
The most direct food access Arcadia does is through its Mobile Markets program. Arcadia specifically locates the mobile markets in historically underserved, low-income communities–areas that typically have very limited access to affordable, healthy foods, and where residents are heavily reliant on federal assistance. Through this program, they provide access to high quality, “fancy-farmers-market-grade” produce–much of which is grown on Arcadia’s farm–and sell it at affordable prices. They make it even more affordable by discounting prices to SNAP, WIC and Senior FMNP customers by 50 percent.
At the start of the pandemic, Arcadia acted fast to adjust the Mobile Market schedule in order to accommodate the people that were most vulnerable to food shortages at the beginning of the national shutdown. The normal Mobile Markets season starts in May, however, when the lockdowns were first implemented in late March, Arcadia knew that access to healthy foods would become ever more critical for their underserved customers, so it launched two months ahead of schedule. The Mobile Markets offered a traditional walk-up market and added pre-orders as well as pre-boxed free produce distribution. Arcadia also partnered with Neighborhood Restaurant Group to fund and distribute thousands of COVID Relief Boxes–nutritionally balanced boxes of food with enough fresh, frozen and staple foods to feed one person for a week.
While Arcadia doesn’t specifically focus on policy advocacy, they do support other organizations that do, particularly by providing access to the large quantities of food access and purchasing data Arcadia generates and collects at its Mobile Markets. Since 2015, the Mobile Markets have tracked every sale of every product by date, location and currency used, documenting the existing and growing demand for fresh healthy food in underserved neighborhoods. There is a widely held belief that the lack of healthy food in lower-income neighborhoods means that there is a lack of demand. Arcadia’s sales data upends that myth, and proves that when people are given access to affordable, high-quality, healthy foods, they buy it in increasing amounts. Arcadia’s point of sale system, developed in partnership with Perigee Labs, is now in use by more than 75 food organizations across the country.
As a proud partner of Arcadia, Fair Farms would like to thank this organization for their immensely necessary work. We appreciate all that you do for the community!