The Kennedy-Longfellow School Holds a Free Monthly Farmers’ Market
On the last Wednesday of every month, the activity room at the Kennedy-Longfellow School (KLO), an elementary school in Cambridge, transforms. The tables overflow with baskets of peppers and bunches of kale, with juicy tomatoes and cans of beans—and all of it is free.
Seeking to ease food access issues, KLO has partnered with the Mayor’s Office and food donation program Food For Free since last year to put on a free, healthy farmers’ market for its students and their families each month. “At this point, over half [of KLO students qualify for] free lunch, and we have been looking for creative ways to feed not only the students, but the families, as well,” explains Nancy Wyse, family liaison at KLO.
Food For Free, an organization that rescues and donates unused but perfectly edible food from organizations and grocery stores, was happy to help. “This was a fantastic way to reach families who might not otherwise be being reached, because they know the schools, they’re coming there every day anyway,” says Executive Director Sasha Purpura. “KLO, in particular, seemed like an excellent place to pilot this because they have an extremely high rate of low-income students in the school.”
The year-round market—scheduled to coincide with the end of the month, when rent and bills are due and families are at their most financially vulnerable—provides fresh produce and staples like milk, bread, and eggs to all KLO families, not just those who qualify for reduced lunch programs. Keeping it open to all, Wyse says, is key to the program’s success.
“Our goal is to get in as many of our families as possible so that there isn’t a stigma around being part of the market,” she says. “For us, it’s a win-win. Not only are we helping out our families in terms of food, but we’re also strengthening our own relationships with our families.”
Though the program is currently only open to families from KLO and its sister school, the Putnam Avenue Upper School, Purpura says Food For Free is launching similar initiatives at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. School and the Graham and Parks School, both also in Cambridge. The former will open on November 13.
Purpura says moving the pantry model to less stigmatized spaces, like the Kennedy-Longfellow farmers’ market, is an effective way to encourage families to seek help.
“There’s a lot of dignity issues, in general, in the emergency food system,” Purpura says. “To make it more of a community experience allows them to get the assistance they need while still feeling like they’re equal members of the community.”