While many Michigan’s farmers markets have accepted SNAP dollars for years, some families receiving these benefits are still unaware that they can, one, spend them at farmers markets and, two, receive twice as much fresh Michigan produce for their money with Double Up Food Bucks. Fulton Street Farmers Market Food Navigator, Tessa Kwant, wants to raise that awareness. So, she proposed that the Market partner with her to produce a short video.
“We shot all of it today [July 31] and will do one more shot next week [August 7]. It should be out the following week,” Kwant says. “The video will show how you can use your food assistance dollars here, how you use your EBT card, get your tokens, and also how to use Double Up Food Bucks. We walk through the market and spend the tokens with the vendors so you can see the process start to finish.”
The video will be available on the Fulton Street Farmers Market website and shared with community organizations. While it was Kwant’s idea to do the video, Fulton Street Farmers Market staff member Mackenzie Tollas plays the main role on camera.Tessa Kwant
“I talked Mackenzie into being the star. She has a knack for being in front of the camera,” Kwant says. “The Fulton Street Farmers Market is an amazing market but the kind of culture that walks through there can be pretty white and middle class. Is there something we are not doing to be welcoming to community (members) who don’t look like this demographic? We want the market to be open and welcoming, a resource for everyone.”
Farmers markets throughout Michigan host Food Navigators thanks to a collaboration between the Michigan Fitness Foundation (MFF)* SNAP-Ed program and the Michigan Farmers Market Association. The main focus is to support families who shop with SNAP, P-EBT, and other food assistance dollars in increasing healthy fresh fruits and vegetables in their diets.
When she’s at the market on Wednesdays or Fridays, Kwant initiates conversations and hands out free recipes made with in-season produce along with a give-way item, usually a kitchen utensil. Last Friday, she handed out a children’s book about eating healthy fruits and vegetables in both English and Spanish.
“I have a booth like any other vendor. Some people are interested in the free recipe I’m handing out and we start talking from there. If they are new to the market, I’ll walk them around and introduce them to some of the vendors,” Kwant says. “My job is to encourage people to buy local produce and let people know this produce is available to them. It’s really in the farmers’ interest, as well, with more dollars flowing to our local farmers.”
Kwant’s role as Food Navigator is one of many she plays as nutrition educator for the Grand Rapids YMCA. She also presents information about healthy eating and wellness to local schools, community organizations, and other community settings throughout the City year round. However, the Food Navigator gig is one of her favorites.
“The health benefits of fresh produce are huge. So many ailments can be alleviated, our whole body and mind benefits,” she concludes. “Having access to local produce is another whole world. You might like eating a strawberry from California in January but when you taste a Michigan-grown strawberry in June, your world explodes. We want everybody to access that experience.”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Headshot courtesy Tessa Kwant. Other photos by Adam Bird of Bird + Bird Studio.
*The Michigan Fitness Foundation is an equal opportunity provider. The Food Navigator project was funded in whole or in part by the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Michigan Fitness Foundation.