The rain didn’t seem to stop anyone from venturing out to the corner of Hosea Williams Drive and 2nd Avenue on March 26, to attend the East Lake Farmers Market’s “Farm to Garden” event.
The market opened a little earlier than usual this year to kick off the season and celebrate its new status as a non-profit.
“We just got word this spring that the IRS has granted us the tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) charity,” said Doug Williams, founder of the East Lake Farmers Market.
Williams explained that last year they decided to expand the market to something more than just a place for residents to gather and buy food on the weekends.
“[We wanted] to try and affect the greater health of the community in a more literal sense because we started looking at the health statistics for DeKalb County and realized that our immediate area has the highest degree of heart rate morbidity and diabetes morbidity, which means, literally, our neighbors are killing themselves with what they eat,” Williams said.
The market’s main goal is to help shape how it serves the community. Since its beginning in 2009 the market has been something that mostly attracted urban professionals. However, with some help from Georgia Organics, a non-profit organization that promotes locally grown food, it’s hoping to broaden its scope and reach families that could not afford organic food.
“We got a grant from Georgia Organics that allows us to double the value of food stamps at the market. So, at half off it becomes a more realistic opportunity. If you can’t afford the food, it’s not an option, but if you can then it becomes an option and the next step is getting people to choose that option,” Williams said.
Federal food stamps were replaced several years ago by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Each person who is enrolled in the program has a card with their monthly allowance on it and, at the market, they can use that card to purchase goods from vendors who qualify.
“We accept the SNAP cards; you swipe it first and [ask for] $10 and then you get $20 in market tokens that are expendable as cash with vendors who qualify for the SNAP program,” Williams said.
The market also partners with local churches to build awareness and is considering starting partnerships with local elementary schools to get children in the area eating healthy.
It was primarily through these efforts that the market received non-profit status; something that Williams said will make it much easier for the market to grow. It also allows them to afford to keep market manager Lou Linzie on staff.
Linzie, who organized the “Farm to Garden” event, said another goal for them this season is to bring more farmers to the market, which is hard because there aren’t many certified natural and certified organic farmers in Georgia.
“All [the markets are] kind of fighting [over] them right now, which is a great thing for our farmers, but to keep this movement growing we have to find more ways to support [them],” she said.
Linzie, who has studied sustainable development, said that the more she worked with farmers she realized how difficult it was to farm, especially in the South. The idea behind the event was to support local farmers and also connect them with gardeners in an effort to have them look at their customers in a different light.
“It’s about connecting gardeners to farmers—not just to consumers and veggie eaters—and having our farmers maybe look at their consumers differently, about what they’ll buy and what they’ll do…I hope this will become an annual thing,” Linzie said.
“Our farmers need our support right now. This market has had a little bit of trouble getting them to come out, so this year we’re really focused on getting a lot more farmers out [here],” she said.
The East Lake Farmers Market runs every Saturday, May 7 through the end of October, from 10-2 p.m.