'It's kept me alive': Kent residents rely on free farmers market in Walnut Park
For the past seven months on Friday afternoons, residents of Kent’s Walnut Park neighborhood have been able to pick up fresh produce and dry goods from an outdoor market. And it’s all free.
The Walnut Park market is one of four free mobile markets in South King County run by the nonprofit FareStart.
RadioActive’s Marian Mohamed lives in Kent and volunteered with FareStart. She talked with Walnut Park residents about what the market means to them.
[RadioActive Youth Media is KUOW's radio journalism and audio storytelling program for young people. This story was entirely youth-produced, from the writing to the audio editing.]
hen I arrived for my first volunteer shift at the free mobile market, I saw tables piled with leafy greens, strawberries and mangoes stacked in a row, and bundles of bagged rice.
People came up, got what they needed, and left. And they didn’t have to pay a dime.
Every time I volunteered at FareStart's free mobile market, I'd see a long line of people waiting to shop, even on the days when it was pouring down rain.
One of the regulars is Annie Riggins.
Riggins has lived in Kent for more than 20 years, and she always has her walker, her friends, and her bright reusable grocery bags with her when she shops.
"The need is here," she said. "I'm hoping that they know the need, and that it will continue."
Riggins said she loves this market because the location is convenient, the volunteers are welcoming, and the food is fresh and free.
“It’s kept me alive," she said. "It kept me from going to the store. I’m a senior and [the food] is a need. So it has helped my life."
FareStart is a non-profit organization based in Seattle. It created mobile markets for communities like Walnut Park to be able to access free and fresh produce without obstacles.
Right now, FareStart operates one mobile market location in Kent and three in Auburn. Kent and Auburn have some of the highest priority needs for food assistance in South King County, according to FareStart research.
Meg Viera is the director of community initiatives for FareStart, and her team oversees the mobile market operations. She says the market is part of the local landscape of services that support food security and access to fresh produce.
“We’re looking to, with the mobile market, to fill gaps, and it’s almost geographically, for those people who aren’t close or don’t have access or have transportation issues," Viera said.
Funding for the market comes from individual donors, companies, foundations, and the Washington state Department of Agriculture. That money helps FareStart partner with farms in Washington to get local food to the markets.
Viera said FareStart prioritizes purchasing food from farms run by Black and Indigenous farmers, and other farmers of color.
“We have had a lot of success working with Living Well Kent and another partner of theirs, Wakulima USA," Viera said. "They help us also understand desired and preferred ingredients and produce that can come into the market in the communities that we're working in.”
The variety of produce the market provides allows shoppers like 18-year-old Thais Barroso and her mom to take home vegetables, fruits and grains they otherwise wouldn't.
“We’ve been eating so much healthier. Like, significantly," Barroso said. "And I think a lot of that is because of the market. Because we don’t have to go through the trouble of going to the grocery store and picking out vegetables there. And I think that fresh vegetables and fruits have become so expensive, it's just been an extra reason to go out and eat healthier because we don't have to pay."
The FareStart mobile market project is still in its pilot phase. Mobile market manager Bryce Harvey says they’re always looking for ways to reach more people.
"We keep doing markets in various locations, working with different organizations, and just kind of fine-tuning and figuring out what works for us in terms of the mobile market," Harvey said. "And we're continuing to do that right now. And hopefully, we'll be expanding soon to other locations as well.”
Nidal Kedal usually comes to the Walnut Park market with her son. Kedal has lived in Kent for five years, and she found out about the mobile market from a flier posted at the local YMCA. She says the market has been helpful as grocery prices have gone up.
“You know now the prices goes up, everything is so expensive. It's hard," Kedal said. "This is a fresh produce. It's helped many, like my friend, my neighbor — they satisfied with that.”
Local resident Abdul Bangura agrees. And, he said, he’s found more than just access to food in this market.
"It’s also really cool to just be connected through food," Bangura said. "Since I've lived here for so long, I've seen so many different stages of this neighborhood. So, for me, it’s like a breath of fresh air just to be connecting with people that are my neighbors.”
This market has made a big difference in the lives of Walnut Park residents in less than a year. Manager Bryce Harvey says Kent residents can continue to find the market at the Walnut Park Townhomes, 24817 112th Ave SE, Kent, WA 98030, every Friday from 3-4 p.m.
But as the name suggests, the mobile market is not permanent. It may move to another location in Kent in the future, as FareStart learns how to best meet community members’ needs.
This story was produced in RadioActive Youth Media's Advanced Producers drop-in workshop for high school and college-age youth. Production assistance by Kyle Norris. Edited and prepared for the web by Kelsey Kupferer.
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