by Amanda Ikens, Owner Resources Coordinator—East
When I first moved to Madison in 1999, I learned about the Co-op and started shopping when it was still just one store and it was located where the Social Justice Center is on Williamson Street. I had friends that would volunteer at the store and they would receive a small discount for their time spent helping out in varying capacities. Today, our Co-op contributes to the local economy by offering over 400 jobs to the community and we are happy that we can pay for people's time. That being said, we are often asked by shoppers if there are ever any volunteer opportunities at the stores and so we thought it would be good to talk about another way to support the food system in our community: volunteering at local farmers’ markets.
We are so lucky to live in Madison where we have so many beautiful markets sprinkled throughout town and at least one is held almost every single day of the week in the spring, summer, and early fall. Some are even held in winter and most of them welcome volunteers. If you want to volunteer, it is best to contact them in advance. Most markets do have a presence online with their own websites and contact information for those that accept volunteers. Some may not use volunteers at all, so it is best to check. If you have an interest in food security and helping people get the most with their food dollar then maybe volunteering at the information booth at a farmers’ market is where you want to be. By working at the information booth you answer market questions and assist customers shopping the market.
At some local markets, volunteers also help customers using the FoodShare/QUEST card machine and distribute vouchers for the Double Dollars nutrition incentive program. These markets have booths staffed with workers and volunteers where recipients of FoodShare benefits can bring their EBT cards and make a withdrawal for “market dollars” to spend at the market. Markets that participate in Double Dollars also offer a dollar-for-dollar match (up to $25) to customers using FoodShare/QUEST cards to make their market budget stretch further. The recipient can withdraw any amount they would like from their EBT card and receive market dollars to use for fresh fruits, veggies, meat and much more. There are some restrictions, for example, customers cannot use Double Dollars to purchase hot coffee and ready-to-eat hot foods. Just ask, and the vendors will let you know if they accept them. Each participating market has their own FoodShare market dollar and they do not transfer from market to market. The Double Dollar voucher, however, is good at any of the participating markets.
The number of markets that have the equipment to take FoodShare/QUEST has grown, and if they have that capability, then they can also distribute Double Dollars. I wanted to take a moment and point out which markets honor the program. I have also included the contact information if you want to reach out and make arrangements to volunteer. Most shifts are only two hours.
• El Mercadito de Centro, Centro Hispano on Badger Road. Wednesdays, 4:00pm-7:00pm. Visit www.micentro.org/volunteer.html to fill out their volunteer application.
Set Up and Tear Down
Some markets also need help with set-up, tear-down or things like brewing coffee. Some market websites will have details regarding what they are looking for from their volunteers, and others you may have to contact to find out what they need people to do. The Northside Market, for example, has many volunteer opportunities the day of the market, and they have things to do behind the scenes, if that is more your style. If you enjoy writing, you could author an article for the Northside Farmers’ Market or get involved by writing for the Northside News. If writing isn’t your thing, you could help out with promotion. The market puts flyers together and they need help distributing them at local businesses. They also occasionally look for volunteers to maintain their website.
I reached out to a few of our contacts for the farmers’ markets and asked them about volunteering. This is what they had to say:
Dane County Farmers Market
Sarah Elliot, Dane County Farmers Market Manager said, “There are two different volunteer opportunities for the outdoor market. One is a general volunteer that gets a chance to help out and it’s a great way to get a behind-the-scenes view of the market and a way to cultivate a closer relationship with some of the farmers. The other opportunity is to work at the information booth. The main benefit is you get to help ensure everyone has access to healthy foods.”
West Side Community Market
Ben Zimmerman, West Side Community Market Manager said “At the Westside Community Market we are lucky to have a solid crew of volunteers who help to facilitate the market week by week. From answering questions at the information tent to assisting with free children's activities, the market would not be the same without our volunteers there to make it a success. One of our greatest sources of pride in our volunteers is their assistance with the FoodShare and Double Dollars program. FoodShare acceptance, boosted by the amazing Double Dollars program, helps ensure we can provide access for all who wish to make their food purchases locally from the many farmers and food artisans at the market. Without the help of volunteers, this program would not be a success or even viable. Volunteering in the market community is a great way to give back and see the positive impact reflected on the happy faces of market shoppers. It's engaging and personal, with real time results that help the farmers' market community here in Madison thrive. We hope that generosity continues in the future and encourage those interested in supporting their local market beyond the role of customer to reach out to your market.”
Erica Anderson, Food Security Specialist for Community Action Coalition said “Every market is different, but they all stay in operation thanks to dedicated vendors, shoppers, and supporters of all kinds.”
Co-op staff at the markets
There are a few Co-op employees that get to spend some time working at local farmers market FoodShare/Double Dollars booths occasionally, and I am one of them. I find that my time at the Eastside Farmers’ Market is fulfilling because first off, I am outside and helping people. Rain or shine, the market goes on. I am there to help out with the market dollars so that the other workers can put their time and energy in other places. I can tell that they are thankful that I am there. It is also very nice to see someone’s face light up when I share about the community resources that are available to them. Not everyone knows that they can use their FoodShare/QUEST cards at the market, and I get to help them stretch their dollar. Being there makes me feel more like a part of this beautiful, vibrant community.
Katie O’Connell-Jones, West Owner Resources Coordinator had this to say, “A favorite component of my job is the opportunity to help out at the Westside Community Market once a month during the season. The energy of the market is palpable, from the music to the customers and vendors. I love getting to match a farm with a farmer and make a connection that is only possible by being at the market. Talking with market customers about the Double Dollars program and the Willy Street Co-op feels like a great fit and a bonus is recognizing and speaking with customers from the store."
gianofer fields, North Owner Resources Coordinator, works at the Northside Farmers Market. “Since I spend a lot of time in the office, I don't have many opportunities to chat with our Owners. I'm at the Sunday market from 8:00am until noon so I get to see people bright and early in the morning. Seeing people in our community starting their day and moving about the parking lot at a leisurely pace is nice. It's a pretty good way to start the day.”
So the next time you are thinking about getting involved with the community, maybe taking a few shifts at your local farmers’ market is just what you were looking for. What a great chance to support your local farmers, bakers, candlestick makers, and Double Dollars program. It takes a village.
The Double Dollars program at Willy Street Co-op and local farmers’ markets is made possible by Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin, the City of Madison, Public Health Madison Dane County, and Willy Street Co-op. In addition to volunteering at local farmers’ markets, you can support the Double Dollars program at the Co-op by making donations at the registers using Double Dollars Fund scan cards or simply by reusing bags when you shop. The Double Dollars Fund supports providing vouchers at both the Co-op and participating farmers’ markets. Co-op Double Dollars vouchers from 2019 can be redeemed through May 31, and then any leftover vouchers can be redeemed starting October 1. Double Dollars vouchers at participating local farmers’ markets will be available starting in June. Visit www.cacscw.org/double-dollars/ for more information about Double Dollars at the farmers’ markets.