Monday, August 1, 2011

Lafayette Student Starts Program to Introduce the Farmers Market to West Ward Residents at Centennial Park

Lafayette student, Emily Zangla (far right), and Theresa Bauchspies, Park Manager for Weed & Seed, serve West Ward residents at Centennial Park empanadas and cheese bread from Farmers Market vendor Terra Café during Weed & Seed's Summer Nights program on Wednesday

Posted by: Noël Jones

Emily Zangla, a rising sophomore at Lafayette College, studying Biology and History, hopes to eventually go to medical school. But as the path of a college student often leads to other interests along the way, Zangla has landed herself an internship with the Easton Farmers Market, which she was introduced to through a writing class, that also involved a lot of reading about local farms, and visits to the Farmers Market to meet local farmers. This inspired a new passion in Zangla for promoting fresh local foods, so when she was offered an internship by Megan McBride at the Easton Farmers Market, she jumped at the chance.

Once on board, Emily learned that the previous internship hadn't gone so well, and she knew that she would have to try something different.
That's when she came up with the idea of promoting Farmers Market vendors on Wednesday nights in Centennial Park in Easton's West Ward during Weed and Seed's Summer Nights program, to introduce fresh local produce to Easton's low-income community, and encourage people to get exercise walking down the hill to the market.

Emily contact Laura Accetta, Director of Weed & Seed, and found out that Weed & Seed had just won a Walmart Innovation Grant. So she worked with Accetta to establish a voucher program with the grant money, to provide $5 vouchers to West Ward residents, that can be traded in for food stamps, which are accepted at the Farmers Market. The grant also provides a small stipend for farmers from the market who do the presentations at Centennial Park.

So how's it going?

"It's been hard to get people interested in learning about the vendors and the food," admits Zangla. She goes on to explain that it seems that the cultural divide between the presenting farmers and the urban youth has been a challenge. "There is a bit of a are talking about their lives...and it's not engaging the attention of the kids, because it's so different from their own lives."

Zangla was immediately tested on her first Wednesday night at Centennial Park. Without any other adults around to back her up, the kids began teasing and cursing at her, and flipping her the bird. Having grown up in the suburban setting of Garnet Valley, PA and having gone to high school in the more affluent Wilmington, DE, "this was my first real 'urban' experience." But Emily was not chased off so easily, and now that she has returned each week, the kids have become familiar with her, and treat her with more respect.

It has also been a challenge to get West Ward parents to actually use the vouchers for the Farmers Market.  "We've been handing out vouchers for a month now, and only ten vouchers have been used." Word has it that some people may be saving the vouchers to use up all at once, rather than walking down the hill for $5 worth of produce each Saturday, "which kind of defeats the purpose of getting more exercise." Emily even arranged for a volunteer, Sharon Groff, to meet residents at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday mornings, to walk down to the market as a group together, but so far no one has shown up. "I don't know," muses Zangla, "...maybe they don't know what to do with vegetables?"

I thought this was a really good point. In low-income communities, you sometimes have families that are two or three generations deep in the welfare system, and most buy unhealthy, packaged foods that don't require cooking, which has lead in part to America's obesity problem among the poor, as many packaged foods are made with corn syrup, which the body cannot break down properly. If someone has grown up without eating salads or cooking fresh vegetables, how would they know what to do, or even what to buy at a Farmers Market? I think of the times I have walked into various ethnic grocery stores, and looked at unfamiliar vegetables and roots, wanting to try them out, but having no idea how or how long they should be cooked, and eventually walking on, rather than doing the research to find out. Maybe it is the same with vegetables from a typical American vegetable garden for someone who has not grown up eating vegetables?

There have been unforeseen challenges for the vendors as well. Only two have actually made it to Centennial Park to give presentations. Sadly, Tombler's Home Bakery had to cancel because of a fire that devastated their home and business. Last week, Terra Café dropped off empanadas and cheese bread (pictured above), but could not spare the workers to give the presentation, which was unfortunate, because the empanadas were a great hit. Owner Manuel Fresneda plans to present at a later date on a Tuesday night, his one night off. The vendor scheduled for this week, Cranberry Creek Farm, lost $10,000 worth of goat cheese last week, due to a power outage, and had to cancel. Emily is trying to line up Easton Salsa to sub for this Wednesday.  "It's too bad--we were really looking forward to the goats," said Emily.

In light of our First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign to fight obesity, I appreciate it that our Farmers Market is trying to help introduce healthier food to West Ward families, and this experience shows just what a challenge public education can be. Interestingly, this Huffington Post article, asks the question of the First Lady's program, "Is It Working?" but seems to address every challenge but public education of low-income families accustomed to eating packaged foods.

Anyone wanting more information about the Easton Farmers Market, or the internship, can contact Megan McBride, at the Main Street Initiative at (610) 330-9942.


tachitup said...

Ya gotta love Emily and her pluck. You go, girl! You are doing good work, even if not immediately evident. You're getting an education that you can't get by paying tuition to any school. And that education will be valuable in and after med school.

Dang, I missed empanadas?

Ron Morris said...

Thanks for this article,Noel.

Anonymous said...

Reading this article describes exactly what's wrong with this town and with society in general. Her first night there the kids were teasing her and giving her the finger??? I grew up near Centennail school, attended Vanderveer school. When I was a kid if any of us would have done those types of things we'd have been pulled from the park by any adult that was present and dragged to our home. And then one of our parents would have set us straight. All the gangsta's and thugs of today are encouraged to behave like that and the so called adults think it's hilarious.
That's not something that programs, government, or anybody else can change. That lifestyle is invading this town and many other towns just like it. Just take a drive through any neighborhood late at night and look at all the morons standing outside drinking and raising hell.

noel jones said...

These were actually younger kids--around 10 years old from what Emily told me. Not a pleasant first experience, but I know from my own experience working with youth that that kind of behavior is often just a test, and a reaction to someone who is unfamiliar. I'm really proud of Emily for sticking it out and coming back. When I was interviewing her, the kids had definitely accepted her as a fixture at the park.

So much of the attitude these kids give off is bluffing, and they long for stability, and for someone to stick around--even though they don't have good examples at home of how to behave.

tunsie said...

If these kids dont know how to conduct themselves,maybe....maybe..they have not had good role models....but...I have seen business owners in downtown easton acting as if they were 10 year olds...I dont believe the things i have seen at the River Grill,Colonial...other places as well...what would be thier excuse...did they have too much Vodka.....tunsie

Anne L. said...

I've participated with Weed and Seed on quite a few nights over the past couple of years at Centennial Park and have volunteered at Paxinosa with these same kids for the last three years and never encountered that sort of behavior from the children or adults. I just wanted to add my experience to the mix. Maybe it's just me, or maybe it has something to do with Luigi. I find the truly disrespectful children are still in the minority.

noel jones said...

FYI for readers...Luigi is the ultimate therapy dog...and gigantic...and kids love him.

Anne L. said...

Love my Luigi!