Organizers are reaping a harvest of benefits following the successful conclusion to the first year of a farmers market in Donnelly.
The idea came about last year when Liz Jones, St. Luke’s McCall’s community health program specialist, pitched the idea to a group of problem-solving Donnelly residents and business owners.
Donnelly is considered a food desert, with limited access to affordable and nutritious food. The town and surrounding area, in Idaho’s west central mountains, have a population of about 600 people.
Many of the young families in the area work in the service industry and choose to live in Donnelly due to the availability of more affordable housing than the resort town of McCall. With limited services and no grocery store, residents travel 12 to 20 miles to shop at the nearest market.
A volunteer organizing committee, including a bakery owner, a retired real estate appraiser with grant-writing experience, the City of Donnelly clerk who has fair vending experience, a local marketing professional, one of the founders of McCall’s Farmers Market and the Donnelly elementary school administrative assistant, was formed.
Led by Jones, the group discussed realistic options. Improving access was one goal; another was to make produce more affordable and to provide incentives to consume more fruits and vegetables. It was determined that a summer farmers market would be a great first step.
The committee successfully applied and received approval to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also known as food stamps. The idea was modeled on similar markets in Boise. Shoppers using their benefits cards received additional coupons to use toward purchasing additional fruits and vegetables.
Donnelly is the only farmers market within a 100-mile radius accepting SNAP benefits. This summer, more than $400 of produce was purchased by SNAP recipients.
Other incentives were made possible through donations from local business and individuals, which funded produce coupons earned through loyalty punch cards, reusable produce bags and a buy-back program.
Through the buy-back program, leftover produce was purchased for distribution to summer school programs and food banks. An estimated $2,000 in produce was distributed through the market season.But the committee didn’t stop there. The group invited local agencies dedicated to lifestyle improvement and disease prevention to the weekly market.
Donnelly Fire and EMS set up a booth for their Community Health EMS (CHEMS) team and provided blood pressure checks. They identified 21 individuals who needed additional follow-up with a physician and referred many to patient navigators for support coordinating healthcare needs. They also established contact with several residents experiencing social isolation and will follow up with home visits over the winter.
St. Luke’s McCall provided education on opening day and sponsored a produce giveaway program where kids received one free fruit or vegetable each time they attended the market. The U.S. Forest Service provided information on fire prevention and respiratory health through the fire season, and Donnelly Library provided a weekly pop-up library where children could read, access books and take part in various activities, including performing in a play presented at the market.
A local garden club provided a free “make and take” program, where children created plantings of lettuce and spinach to take home. 4H provided a petting zoo and fun learning activities for kids. And Women, Infant and Children’s (WIC) and Head Start offered children’s games and promoted their programs.
Vendors offered healthy cooking demonstrations and recipes were distributed by the market volunteers.
Organizers, community partners, vendors and residents feel the first year of the market has been a success, but the committee also wanted to make sure they were accomplishing what they set out to do. They conducted pre-and post-market surveys that showed that elementary school students’ and food bank users’ fruit and vegetable consumption increased to four servings a day, up from 1.5 servings, with nearly 60 percent attending the market.“Everyone is already looking forward to next year and has new ideas on how we can continue to ‘health up’ Donnelly,” Jones said.
Laura Crawford works in the Communications and Marketing department at St. Luke's.