Words and Photos by Bishop Snedden, Special to Edible DC
It’s summer in DC. Out of an oven of a truck, crowded with refrigerators, across scorching asphalt with armfuls of tents, tables and overflowing vegetable crates, our Arcadia team creates an outdoor farmers market. Our market, although lush, local and bountiful, is different.
Arcadia Foods Mobile Markets were created to distribute sustainably grown fruits, vegetables and meats to neighborhoods that aren’t served by other farmer’s markets or do not have ready access to nutritious food. Growing up in Northwest DC, I have never had to question the quality of the food I eat or when my next meal would be, but I know that this is not every DC resident’s experience. This summer, I have come to understand that good food should not be a privilege -- it’s a right: that is Arcadia’s belief and one that I share.
We’ve arranged mason jars full of herbs at the front counter, labeled boxes of fresh berries and beans, all while eyeing the throbbing line of customers waiting to shop. The opening hour arrives, vouchers are distributed and a throng of customers move towards the market. There’s chaos. There’s commotion. There’s a mad dash toward the cherry bins.
There are whole sections of DC that lack grocery stores or easy transportation to them. Arcadia’s Mobile Markets bridge that gap, driving outfitted trucks loaded with fresh, seasonal produce and other selected items directly where they are needed most. According to DC Hunger Solutions, while DC has 49 full-service grocery stores, only two are located in Ward 7 and one in Ward 8 in comparison to neighborhoods like Ward 3 that has nine full-service stores and is the highest-income Ward.
Arcadia partners with Department of Health and DC Greens on the Produce Plus Program to distribute $10 worth of fruit and vegetable vouchers per qualifying household up to two times per week to be spent at farmer’s markets. DC residents qualify for this program if they participate in WIC, SNAP/EBT, Medicare, Medicaid, SSI or TANF. Additionally, the Mobile Market accepts and doubles SNAP, WIC and Senior FMNP. That means if a customer spends $5 with us in federal nutrition benefits, they go home with $10 in the finest local food available. The Market also accepts cash, credit and debit. Arcadia’s Mobile Markets source their food from its farm on the grounds of Woodlawn-Pope Leighey in Alexandria, from George Washington’s Mount Vernon farm, and from other farms within a 125 mile radius of DC.
Working on the cash register, I am usually the final member of the Arcadia team that our customers meet. As I ring up orders and pack bags, I love talking to people about their experience at the market: every week at United Medical Center, a customer shares a new way that he prepared the whole chicken he bought from our market. A woman consistently raves about the cantaloupe and the smoothies she prepares with the fruit she freezes. Having a customer remember our names and tell us how much they appreciate our efforts makes all the difference.
Neighbors run into neighbors, children tag along with grandparents and parents: the Mobile Markets are a part of these communities. The Arcadia team is only at each market stop for a few hours once a week, but in a small way, we have become a part of these communities as well. Our team has come to know and love our customers, like an elderly man at our Wah Luck stop. For weeks he would come to our markets, claim his Produce Plus vouchers for the week and leave without purchasing anything. He showed up a few weeks ago and, using his saved up Produce Plus vouchers, ordered $100 of white peaches -- at our surprised expressions he explained that they were a gift to serve at his sister in law’s birthday. Her favorite fruit is white peach, and he had carefully saved to give her this gift. He is now a fixture at our market every week. Caring moments like these are never-ending and make working at Arcadia more than just a job. There is an endless need for more support for programs like Arcadia’s Mobile Markets and Produce Plus.
Ahhhhh, summer; summer with Arcadia Mobile Food Markets. Come September, I will return to college, but the market will go on into the fall. I will miss the Arcadia team, the fresh fruits and vegetables and the controlled chaos of a joyful market. I know our customers will be lining up under the warm sun, chatting with neighbors, sharing recipes with us, and carting home their bounty.
My name is Bishop Snedden and I am a junior at Washington and Lee University, pursuing studies in Chemistry and French. I have a deep interest in food and nutrition, which led me to my summer work with Arcadia's Mobile Markets.