This summer, I will intern in Boston Public Market. Boston Public Market is a non-profit organization. Its mission is “to provide fresh, healthy food to consumers of all income levels, nourish our community, and to educate the public about food sources, nutrition, and preparation”. This internship is a multi-factorial internship. I will focus on many different projects, including helping low-income people gain access to nutritious foods, giving tours to summer camps, visiting farms, interviewing vendors, help with market management, etc. There are two main projects that I’m very excited to work on: Switching into HIP program and educating youth of public health issues.
In order to give people of all income level the equal access to food, vendors in BPM accept SNAP/EBT for all eligible market products. Currently, a statewide program, Massachusetts’ Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), is replacing the Boston Bounty Buck program, enacted since June 1st.
There have been some complications in the switch of programs. Previously, EBT card holders will come regularly to the market in order to match their SNAP purchase by making a $10 SNAP purchase, then the market will give them back $20 Boston Bounty Bucks (BBB). These bucks can be used as currency to purchase all eligible food items. However, after the switch, vendors no longer take Bounty Bucks. In addition, only vegetables and fruits purchase will be matched. Therefore, though still accepting SNAP purchase, many vendors who previously accept BBB now are no longer active in participating program. It’s also not hard to imagine how unhappy EBT card holders would be if they have voided leftover bounty bucks. As a small part of this new state-wise program, there really isn’t much we can do to improve the situation. I can tell that this program aims to further encourage low-income people to purchase food of one specific category—fresh products which are more nutritious—rather than just any category of foods. My role in this program switch was very simple: understanding the new program myself, writing a summary sheet, and answering vendors’ questions while distributing the program packages.
The other project I will work on the entire summer is programming summer tours. Educating the public about food source has been the mission of Boston Public Market. One of the intern assignments is to program the tour for different summer camps. All programming starts with theme brain storming. Most of the interesting themes address on important public health issues. We have come up with a few theme ideas. For example, pretend you have $10 to make a meal from ingredients at the market. List what you’ll make, the ingredients you’ll buy, and how much each ingredient costs. This is an amazing idea, since ingredients that are in season and local will cost less. As I have learned from my public health classes, limited access to nutritious food and lack of nutrition knowledge lead to obesity and other health issues among low-incomes. Planning meals within a limited budget will help kids gain more insight on meal planning as well as nutrition knowledge.
Another very interesting theme is to keep track of the distance each vendor’s farm or source from the market. All vendors in the market are sourced in New England. I try to map out the location of each vendors, which can help the kids to start considering issues like carbon footprint, seasonality, etc. From a global perspective, health is really more than someone’s own well-being. Staying healthy means not only to eat nutritious food, but also to eliminate agricultural waste, to reduce carbon footprint, to help maintain agricultural sustainability, which is the mission of the market. “Eating is an agricultural act. Eat responsibly,” writes Wendell Berry. I always consider eating and growing food as responsibilities. However, nowadays, people lost their connection with the real origin of food. Indeed, when you can buy everything you want in a Stop & Shop, you will have no idea why seasonality and locality would make such a huge difference. While a year-round indoor market place really serves to connect people back to the most sustainable way of living. I still don’t know enough to draw a conclusion, but as far as I know, if people can be more aware of these factors, the money they save by supporting local agriculture will eventually benefits the entire community, both themselves and the low-incomes.
Overall, by assisting the operation of HIP program, I will also be able to gain more insight on how a market place make fresh and more nutritional-balanced food more accessible to low-income people. It’s well known that low-income people only have very limited access to fresh food. Very few markets in Boston area, especially farmer’s markets, accept SNAP, and BPM is one of them. Through tracking and managing user’s account, I will be able to qualitatively understand the real effect and value of enabling SNAP usage. By participating in the summer tour programming, I will gain more insight in nutrition issues and how each farmer interprets them from their perspective. Eventually, I hope this way of thinking will benefit my own lifestyles, and will help me in following and spreading idea in my future idea.