DC Greens is Helping Residents Eat Better Through Social Justice

Katie Howell

Food justice organizations are finding ways to use locally produced food to address equity in access, affordability, and health. DC Greens’ Produce Plus Program partners with farmers’ markets to distribute over US$800,000 annually to Washington, D.C. residents to help purchase fresh, healthy produce.

New vendor applications and trainings officially opened in March in anticipation of the program’s June start date. In 2018, Produce Plus partnered with 12 organizations operating multiple markets around the city, helping expand the program’s reach. DC Greens estimates that the program serves an additional 19,000 people annually – up from around 13,000 people in 2016.

“In order to truly address issues of food insecurity, we [aim to create] programs that put power and agency back into the hands of folks who have been marginalized,” says Aparna Raj, Communications Manager at DC Greens. Across the city’s farmers’ markets, Produce Plus offers subsidies for fruits and vegetables to those receiving federal benefits. The program hopes to make farmers’ markets more accessible to residents, simultaneously supporting the local farm economy.

“Farmers’ markets can be signs of changing neighborhoods and displacement,” says Raj. “[Produce Plus works] to ensure that markets [are] welcoming and accessible for long-time residents.” Through their Market Champion system, a strategy referred to as “community in-reach,” DC Greens employs neighborhood leaders to spread word of the program and promote healthy eating habits.

As the program prepares for the upcoming season, DC Greens aims to deepen its outreach work. Shifting away from focusing on awareness, DC Greens is now working on turning the Market Champion program to a Food Champion program. “Food Champions will pivot to promote food information more broadly, including how to access food throughout the year when the farmers’ markets are closed,” says Raj.

The Washington D.C. Department of Health funds the program, while DC Greens administers it. Clients who receive federal benefits can get two US$5 checks twice a week to spend on produce at farmers’ markets citywide. While other programs provide funding to match the amount of SNAP benefits, Produce Plus allows people to use their Produce Plus funds in addition to their SNAP funds, Raj tells Food Tank. Raj says that Produce Plus also accepts Medicaid as an eligible benefit, to help frame food as medicine and nutrition essential to the health care system.

When the program began in 2013, it focused on increasing food access at farmers’ markets and improving food and nutrition education in D.C. schools. Today, the organization’s mission is food justice. “[DC Greens staff] challenged the organization to think about how systemic racism feeds into our food system and has led to the disparities we see in food access and health outcomes across DC today,” Raj tells Food Tank.

In addition to Produce Plus, the organization operates a produce prescription program, school nutrition initiatives, and will be opening an urban farm. “[We work to help those] impacted by food insecurity get the tools, resources, and allies to push for food justice in D.C.,” says Raj, “…we work…in direct collaboration with people…to advocate for the city they wish to see.”

Photo courtesy of Samory Henry