Farm Fresh Rhode Island has a radical idea: The first step in creating access to fresh food is to support local farmers. As Lucie Searle of Farm Fresh explains, “When we were founded 16 years ago, you couldn’t buy an apple grown in Rhode Island at a Rhode Island grocery store—even though we grow a lot of apples. A lot of our early work was connecting people to fresh produce: Creating farmer’s markets, telling people where they could find fresh produce...”
The Farm Fresh Saturday winter farmer’s market attracts 3,000-4,000 people in four hours; they also manage 10 summer farmer’s markets state-wide. Both give Rhode Island farmers a direct outlet to consumers; both accept Bonus Bucks, which doubles the spending power on fruits and vegetables for families using SNAP. Harvest Kitchen, a job-training program for system-involved youth, prevents food waste by makings soups, applesauce and other comestibles from farmers’ excess produce; a Market Mobile distributes farmers’ wares whole-sale—including stops at food pantries desperate for fresh produce. Farm Fresh Co-director Jesse Rye says, “Farm Fresh exists at the intersection of farm viability and food access...We do our best to bring more money back to the farms, so they can continue to do what they’re doing.”
Now Farm Fresh has another expansion underway, a 60,000 square foot headquarters. Half the building will house their existing programs; half will be manufacturing and retail space for local one-of-a-kind farm-to-food businesses.
New Markets Tax Credits are a significant funding source for this project and bring added complexity, as NMTC funds are only available once all other funding is in hand. Five of this project’s sources are funded either on a reimbursement basis or at project completion. A loan from the BlueHub Loan Fund provided the necessary bridge that enabled Farm Fresh to close on the NMTC.
Photo credit: Marilyn Humphries Photography