Dignowity Hill Farmers’ Market

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Salud Heroes
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Farmers’ markets are a great place to find fresh fruits and vegetables when your local grocery store doesn’t sell them. But when your neighborhood doesn’t have a farmers’ market OR a local grocery store with fresh fruits and vegetables—are you just out of luck? Find out how a Latina school teacher-turned healthy food activist was inspired by her friend to start a farmers’ market in her neighborhood in San Antonio, Texas, so neighbors could not only have better access to fresh fruits and vegetables, but learn how to cook tasty dishes that make healthy eating a delicious way of life.

EMERGENCE

Awareness: As a computer teacher at an elementary school in inner-city San Antonio, TX, Michelle Griego watches kids choose chips over carrots daily.

San Antonio sits within Bexar County, where 27% of Latino children are obese.

While city and health officials have been pushing healthy initiatives and making progress, some schools and communities still struggle.

“The kids hear all the time you have to make healthy choices and eat well, but they don’t know why,” she said. “Nobody tells them the consequences of drinking all those sodas and junk food.”

Griego believes that education plays a big role in helping kids make healthier choices.

It’s a lesson she learned through her own healthy eating transformation that started in 2014 when her long-time friend, Jovanna Lopez, brought a small farmers’ market to her underserved neighborhood in San Antonio’s Westside.

“One day last year she said, ‘I want to start a farmers market.’ And she did it!” said Griego.

Learn: Griego started going to Lopez’s farmers’ market to support her friend.

Greigo learned about healthy eating at the market, which was small (usually about six vendors) but also conducted food demonstrations where experts would show folks how to cook with the fresh, healthy food they could buy at the market.

Griego found herself going more often to Lopez’s farmers’ market because grocery stores in her neighborhood, Dignowity Hill, didn’t carry many healthy foods.

Griego and her husband started to eat better and cook differently. She began to lose weight and feel better, empowered by her new knowledge of healthy foods and how to prepare them.

“[Lopez] pretty much changed the way I eat by just saying, ‘Hey, come see what we have to offer.’ She didn’t pressure me or anything,” Griego said, “I made the decision on my own.”

The experience caused her to reflect on her own neighborhood. Although she has only lived there for three years, many of her neighbors have lived there for over 50. The up-and-coming neighborhood has many historic houses that attract people who like the challenge of a fixer-upper.

Yet, this Eastside neighborhood shares many characteristics of Lopez’s Westside neighborhood: pockets of poverty, a significant minority population and, as Griego was beginning to realize, slim healthy food options that were easy to access.

“I don’t want to drive to another neighborhood just to get [healthy food],” she said.

Frame Issue: Inspired by Lopez, Griego decided she wanted to bring a farmers’ market to Dignowity Hill and inspire her neighbors to begin eating healthier, too.

Griego brought the idea to Lopez, who enthusiastically supported her.

The women imagined that their markets would be sister markets, sharing some of the same vendors and operating on alternate days. That way, Griego said, if someone missed one of the markets, they can still grab what they need at the other one.

“I give her so much credit for helping me out…if she hadn’t invited me [to her farmers’ market], I wouldn’t have been motivated to do this for my community at all,” Griego said.

Griego was hopeful that her neighbors would embrace a new farmers’ market, but there were many more steps she would have to take before her dream could become a reality.

DEVELOPMENT

Education: To learn exactly how to start a farmers’ market, Griego said she did what anyone would do: she Googled it.

She found out she needed certain types of permits and licenses from the City. She also needed a location.

She thought Dignowity Hill Park, centrally located in her neighborhood, would be a great spot to have the new market.

“It’s underutilized and a block from my house—what better place to have it,” she said.

After talking with a few of her neighbors, Griego learned that her neighborhood association had tried to start a farmers’ market years before, but the efforts weren’t successful.

“Maybe they didn’t know what to do, or there wasn’t enough awareness or it didn’t have enough community support,” Griego said.

Learning from the previous missteps, Griego knew she needed to go out into the community, talk with her neighbors and get their opinion about creating a neighborhood farmers’ market.

Mobilization: Dignowity Hill is a close-knit community where friends are neighbors, and vice-versa.

So it was easy for Griego to go knock on her neighbors’ doors and chat about what types of foods they like to cook with and what items they would like to see at a local farmers’ market.

“They really appreciated that; nobody had ever asked them that before,” she said.

She and her husband also invited a few of their close neighbors over to see if she could count on them for help meeting with vendors or getting neighborhood support.

Griego said her neighbors were fully on board.

Debate: With the neighborhood behind her, she moved forward with plans to secure Dignowity Hill Park for the market. On the San Antonio Parks and Recreation website, it tells residents interested in reserving park space to call a number. So Griego called.

But once Parks and Rec learned she wanted to reserve a space for a farmers’ market, they needed more information. They asked her what organization she was with, but Griego wasn’t with an organization.

“I’m just a regular resident, I’m a community member, a taxpayer, I live here,” she said.

Without affiliation with an official organization, Parks and Rec was hesitant to allow Griego to reserve park space for an ongoing time period.

They suggested she get some sort of support from local organizations and business in her neighborhood and show that the neighborhood truly needs a farmers’ market. Griego agreed and Parks and Rec asked her to submit an official proposal demonstrating the need and support.

ENACTMENT

Activation/Frame policy: Griego devised a plan to show support for the farmers’ market at all levels.

She created an online petition that people, Dignowity residents or not, could sign in support of the market.

“300 signatures on the petition was a personal goal,” she said. To reach this goal, she hoped to use the power of social media to get the word out and she created Facebook and Twitter accounts for the proposed market.

She contacted her district councilman, Alan Warrick, and received a letter of support from him. Green Spaces Alliance, a local environmental organization that supports many community gardens and farmers’ market endeavors throughout Bexar County, pledged their support, as well.

Griego was also able to get support from Dignowity Meats, a new local sandwich shop.

“They might even be a vendor later on,” she said.

At this stage, she said, it was difficult to get vendors to commit to a farmers’ market that did not have a location, but she was able to secure two vendors from Lopez’s market. Since her plan was to keep the market small with around five vendors, securing two before she even had a permit was good news.

Frame policy: In her proposal to Parks and Rec, Griego included data about San Antonio’s obesity rate, statistics that showed how both kids and adults are affected by diabetes and how the farmers’ market, with healthy, fresh produce and cooking demonstrations, would help change this.

“I’m going to bring positive eating habits to this neighborhood,” she said.

She also wanted to address affordability and ensure that the market could accept SNAP dollars and other food assistance.

“You shouldn’t have to pay extra for fresh,” she said. “It’s not fair that kind of food is so expensive.”

Change: Griego submitted the proposal to Parks and Rec in early February 2015, and about a week later, she found out it was approved. A farmers’ market could come to Dignowity Hill.

“This is a tremendous achievement for us and we want to thank everyone who signed our petition, wrote letters of support and helped voice the importance of having a better food selection in our community,” Griego wrote in a Facebook post.

IMPLEMENTATION

Implementation: The first farmers’ market at Dignowity Hill Park will be held March 15th from 9 A.M. to 2 P.M., and is set to open twice a month, on the 2nd and 4th Sundays. Griego is busy with promotion and finding more vendors and folks to do cooking demonstrations.

“A big part of the farmers’ market is educating people who come out to our market,” she said, which is why securing demonstrations is important.

So far, Griego confirms that Amaya’s Tacos & Bakery, another local business, will be at the market to offer food demonstrations and ready-to-eat freshly prepared food. She is tentatively scheduling demonstrations by other experts as well.

She has four vendors committed so far, and she said the Eastside Sprout Community Garden, a local community garden, will set up at the market when they have a harvest to give away.

To add to the educational environment, exercise classes and health screenings will be available at every market day thanks to Mobile Fit SA, San Antonio Parks and Rec’s fitness center-on-wheels.

Equity/Sustainability: True to Griego’s commitment to keep the market affordable for all, vendors won’t have to pay high fees to sell at the market.

“To be a vendor the fee is $15 per market day with no membership dues,” she said.

Neighbors are anxiously awaiting the new market.

“They are excited that something kind of old school is coming into the neighborhood,” said Griego.

She knows that to truly impact her community, Griego needs to continue to nurture the new farmers’ market and ensure it sticks to the initial mission: to provide healthy, affordable food to neighbors while showing them how to cook fresh and healthy meals in their own kitchens.

“It’s been a journey,” she said, “but it’s not over!”

This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

ABOUT THE PROGRAM

Salud America! The RWJF Research Network to Prevent Obesity Among Latino Children is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The program aims to educate researchers, decision-makers, community leaders, and the public in contributing toward healthier Latino communities and seeking environmental and policy solutions to the epidemic of Latino childhood obesity. The network is directed by the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

For more information, visit http://www.salud-america.org.

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This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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