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How Can the SSA Farm Support Low-Income Communities and Help Address Food Insecurity?

by Anna Sekine, director of SSA Farms

Last term, Sawyer Sidelinger and I had the opportunity to attend the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s 28th annual conference in Lancaster, PA. The PASA conference has been around since 1992, and the organization has been a pioneer of the sustainable agriculture movement. In fact, the two are so intrinsically linked that PA Secretary of Agriculture, Russell Redding, said at the conference, “you can’t tell the story of agriculture without PASA.” PASA 2019 Sustainable Agriculture Conference logo

So, what makes this conference so special? Since the early '90s, hundreds of farmers, homesteaders, educators, and other food system professionals have gathered for four days to learn about a variety of food and farming topics. This year’s conference brought together nearly 1,900 people, and it was full of farmer diversity: beginning and established; rural and urban; natural, organic, no-till, regenerative, you name it. I was so happy to be able to represent SSA, as well as connect with and learn from other farmers and educators in our region. 

While I attended around a dozen different sessions, one session really stood out. It was led by Dorothy Cross from Penn State Extension and Nykisha Madison-Keita from Urban Tree Connection, and it explored community-centered farmers markets. While our Fox Chapel Farmers Market already has strong ties to the SSA community, this session challenged me to think about how I can push this notion further and connect the larger Pittsburgh community even more. I found myself pondering questions, like these, “How can we support low-income communities more?” and “How can we address food insecurity and access issues?” Thus, when I returned from PASA, I was inspired and decided to apply for the Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP).

This program is associated with the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). WIC participants receive FMNP coupons, which can buy fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables at participating locations. A Field Representative from the PA Department of Agriculture will review our growing site at the Senior School. If all goes well, our SSA farm stand will be able to take FMNP coupons and support a larger community that often is left out. 

While FMNP status will be a step in the right direction, I know that there are more ways our market and gardens can support food access and insecurity. Thus, my hope is that each year, I can draw upon my PASA session and find new ways the SSA farms can become more community-centered and enriching.