Takoma Park Patch sat down with Allison Milchling, the new manager of the Crossroads Farmers Market.
What's your background and how did you come to the Crossroads Farmers Market?
I majored in Chinese at the University of Maryland. I happened to study abroad in one of the most agriculturally minded provinces in China when I was exposed to an amazing food culture. The buses in the city take you straight to the farmland and the connectivity between urban and rural was really right on for me while I lived there. The norm of it all was a culture shock to me. People of all levels of income bought food from small markets and stands on a daily basis and going to a grocery store was very uncommon. In gearing up for my return to Maryland, I knew I had to have something to do back home that kept me linked to this perfect food system. I wound up emailing Michele Levy and had an interview over Skype while still in China. Less than a week after I got back, I was interning at the market, chatting it up with our Chinese senior shoppers as they waited in line for their fresh checks.
As market manager what are your duties?
My duties at the market all revolve around promoting market so that the vendors can support their businesses by coming each week and the community can take advantage of what we have to offer through the fresh checks incentive program and SNAP outreach. At market I make sure all of the vendors and community representatives are squared away for the day and oversee data collection at the market info tent.
We have a great intern this year, Kathryn Braisted, and a new community assistant,Gaby Lopez, who is actually the daughter of one of our SNAP outreach assistants. They are a big help in every aspect of what goes on each Wednesday: from setting up, to giving out fresh checks and swiping debit cards, to waiting for Manna Food Center to come by for the donations after we’ve packed up for the day.
How do you plan to advance the market as manager?
We made some pretty big changes this year, other than the obvious one of me managing the market instead of Michele Levy and Michelle Dudley. We moved to the more concealed (but way more spacious) part of the parking lot in the back instead of our old spot along New Hampshire. We’ve also reconfigured our incentive program in an effort to better assist WIC, SNAP, and Senior shoppers in their efforts to eat healthy and local.
Our goal in these changes was to broaden the impact of the market within the scope of the non-profit, Crossroads Community Food Network. The Fresh Checks program at market is progressing into a system that causes people to make the choice to spend their money at market instead of at the grocery. Another section of the Network, Eat Fresh Maryland is piloting its nutrition program we developed with Maryland Extentions at market starting this Wednesday June 20. Each time a fresh-check eligible shopper (wic and snap participants and seniors 65+) buys a bunch of leafy greens to use in a recipe they learned about at market, they’ll receive a punch on a frequent shopper card (five punches awards you five fresh checks). “A punch a bunch” is extending our relationship with shoppers right up to the point of purchase. Before, we were giving people money based on eligibility and this is better honing in on our intention to improve eating habits.
I’m also building relationships with PG County seniors so that our market population can grow in that demographic. Our Takoma Park seniors ride a bus to market each week and make coming to market a part of their weekly routine. By reaching out to PG senior homes, we’ll extend that invitation to a new set of seniors- combating isolation by providing an outlet for community activity as well as affordable produce.
A committee of the market board is working on building relationships between our farmers and hot prepared food vendors. They are starting more and more to source their ingredients from their neighbor stand, which is exciting for us.
Making the market great for vendors is just as important as making it great for shoppers to me. This week I’m excited that Carole Morison accepted my invitation to sell her eggs at market (in our latest newsletter). Providing her an outlet to sell to support her and her husband in their new journey as a farmer is a cool thing.
What you see for the future of the market?
What I see for market in the future is just a tighter wound relationship established on what we’ve already got going. Building relationships between vendors and shoppers and the community can always keep growing. I want to get to a point where incentives are not the driving force, but something has clicked on a larger scale in the community where people are coming to get the best food from the best vendors for their families. Next year we plan to find funding for a community mural to brighten up the brick wall in the parking lot. We’re planning on partnering with artists affiliated with art for the people.
In the far away dream future I see the market being the ground level of a renovated office space at the new stop for the purple line- the market operating year round as both how its always been but also as a convenience store alternative for commuters. With the wic office still right above.