People have been flocking to a farmers market in the West Central Neighborhood that gives away free produce since Our Place Community Ministries first started it three years ago.
Our Place Executive Director Tracie Swanson said she started the program because she wanted to provide healthy food to the working poor. The Free Fresh Market is open during the summer every Wednesday through Sept. 18, with the exception of Aug. 7, at Our Place, 1509 W. College Ave.
“The first year we saw about 90 people a week,” she said. “Then it started to grow.”
The first year the Free Fresh Market operated, it was funded by a $5,000 grant from the Empire Health Foundation, which paid for the awnings, tables and other supplies used for the market. “The last two years we’ve just been working off our budget,” Swanson said.
The organization gets most of its fruits and vegetables from Northwest Harvest, Second Harvest and Food for All.
“Sometimes we have farmers from the farmers markets give,” Swanson said. “I’ve also brought things from my garden.”
The Free Fresh Market offerings change every week, depending on what’s in season and what Northwest Harvest and Second Harvest receive, Swanson said.
“It varies,” she said. “We’re really dependent on the food banks.”
Our Place also accepts donations of fresh produce from backyard gardeners who might have a few too many zucchinis or tomatoes on their hands, Swanson said.
On July 17 the market had cherries, apples, pears, spinach and mushrooms, and handed out 10,000 pounds of food to 574 people. Our Place also runs a food bank for West Central residents three days a week and provides some of that food as well.
“We always have the staples – rice, oats, lentils, beans,” she said.
Swanson said they always cook a dish for visitors to sample that includes one or more of the staples to offer ideas on what to make. In the past those dishes have included lentil chili, a summer bean salad and salsa. They also provide recipes for the sample dishes and other dishes as well as food preparation tips.
People are allowed to take as much produce as they want. “We ask people to take what they need and use what they take,” Swanson said.
While the Our Place Food Bank is limited to West Central residents, anyone is welcome at the Free Fresh Market. People are asked to provide their ZIP code, the number of people in their household and a phone number in case some of the food is recalled.
Swanson said she sees a lot of parents struggling to feed their children over the summer break, grandparents who need a little something extra for their visiting grandchildren, college students and the working poor.
“I’m surprised at how many people have come from all over,” she said. “We’ve had people from Liberty Lake and Colville. Everyone is just so thankful to get fresh produce.”
She recalled a recent visit to the Free Fresh Market by a pregnant woman who was nearly in tears because she was so grateful for the healthy food, Swanson said. The reality is that some people can’t afford to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, she said.
“They just don’t have access to it,” she said. “It’s just so expensive.”
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