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7 Questions with Bernie Prince, Founder of FRESHFARM Markets

Today, we welcome Bernadine Prince to 7 Questions! Bernadine (Bernie) Prince is co-founder and Co-Executive Director of FRESHFARM Markets, a featured Catalogue charity for 2013-2014. FRESHFARM operates 10 producer-only farmers markets in the mid-Atlantic region. Bernie started FRESHFARM’s Food Stamp/Matching Dollars program and oversees FoodPrints, the local foods school program which includes a Food Lab, a fully-functional teaching kitchen that complements the organic edible garden and curriculum instruction. For the past seven years, Prince has also worked in Australia and New Zealand, where she helped set the standards for those countries’ farmers markets.


1. What motivated you to begin this organization ? What need does it fulfill and how is your organization working towards meeting this need?

Ann Yonkers and I met in 1996 and started FRESHFARM Markets by opening the first producer-only farmers market in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC in 1997. We both saw a need to showcase the bounty of local food grown in our Chesapeake Bay region by ensuring that farmers sold this fresh, healthy food in a well-managed farmers market. We also saw a need to educate the public about local food and farming issues and do that every market day, now with our network of 10 producer-only farmers markets in DC, MD, and VA.

2.What was your most interesting recent development, update, project, event, or partnership?

FRESHFARM Markets is currently undertaking a strategic planning process that is evaluating new opportunities for direct marketing of local food and also looking at strengthening our FRESHFARM Markets identity and brand. We have added talented new board members who are enthusiastic about this process which will help set the course for the organization over the next three to five years. Although this sounds like a very nerdy type of project, it is actually very interesting to look back at our markets and programs, partnerships, successes, and failures to evaluate them and try to look into the future for FRESHFARM Markets.

3. What other projects are you up to?

We are working to bring a new FRESHFARM Market to Union Market in Washington, DC, complete with the diversity of local food products that we have at all of our producer-only farmers markets and offering SNAP (Food Stamp) redemption with a Matching Dollars program. We have applied to USDA to accept SNAP (Food Stamps) at our Ballston, Va FRESHFARM Market, making this the first Virginia market to accept SNAP.

For our local foods, FoodPrints program, we expanded the program this year to include all the grades (first through fifth) at Watkins Elementary School so we are reaching 540 children with growing and harvesting food in our organic garden and learning about healthy foods and nutrition. We added Peabody School (pre-K and K) and SWS (first and third grades) to the program. And, thanks to funding from DCPS, we are offering a monthly Family Night where parents and students cook in our FoodLab kitchen at Watkins learning about healthy eating and cooking fresh, seasonal foods together. FoodPrints has become the most popular enrichment program in these schools.

4.Who inspires you? Do you have a hero?

We have two heroes here at FRESHFARM. Nora Pouillon (chef/owner, Restaurant Nora, first certified organic restaurant in the US) who was the inspiration for creating a producer-only farmers market in the District of Columbia. Also, Jean Wallace Douglas, who supported our work through the Wallace Genetic Foundation from the very beginning, encouraged us in every way we could to help small, family farmers. We have named our farmer scholarship fund in memory of Jean Wallace Douglas.

5.What is the single greatest challenge that your organization faces, and how are you working towards combating this issue?

Running farmers markets is a lot of work and we are always looking for energetic and talented staff to help with our work. We have recently created more full-time positions with employee benefits to attract staff who can grow with the organization.

6. What advice do you have for other people in your position? What’s your biggest take-away lesson you have gleaned from your experiences?

If you work in a nonprofit organization like FRESHFARM Markets, you love the work you do and know that you are making a difference every single day. So, remember to celebrate your successes and thank those who have been part of the process.

7.What’s next for your organization, both in the short term and long term?

We will have our annual Farmland Feast on Monday, November 11th and already have our Feast volunteers and staff busy on the planning for this spectacular local food event that has been called “a delectable philanthropic success” and the “locavore party of the year!” Longer term, I would like to see the FoodPrints program expand to more elementary schools in the DC metro area. We would also like to see the local foodshed in the DC metro area become even stronger with more restaurants and institutions buying and serving local food and more young people becoming the next generation of farmers in our region.

Guest Post: Washington Youth Garden

The Washington Youth Garden uses the garden cycle as a tool to enrich science learning, inspire environmental stewardship and cultivate healthy food choices in youth and families. Their blog chronicles nature adventures at the Garden, and a recent post by Emily Roberts, the 2013 Garden Education Assistant, shares her experience during her first week on the job through pictures. Find the original post and read more online here!

Hello there! My name is Emily and I’m the 2013 Garden Education Assistant at the Washington Youth Garden (WYG). Founded in 1971, the WYG (located at the U.S. National Arboretum) provides a unique, year-round environmental science and food education program for D.C. youth and their families. Using the garden and Arboretum as a living classroom, our programs teach participants to explore their relationships with food and the natural world.

This season I’ll be working with the other WYG staff to make SPROUT field trips run smoothly and plants grow strong. SPROUT stands for Science Program Reaching OUT, and is our widest-reaching program which invites youth and educators from all over the Washington metro area to visit to our demonstration garden site at the Arboretum. The program is offered three days a week (Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays) from April through October.

I’m no stranger to the garden, though – I’ve been volunteering nearly every Saturday morning during the growing season for the last three years. You should come volunteer with us too!

Here are a few photos I took during my first week. I hope you enjoy them, and hope to see you soon out at the garden.

Tuesday, April 30th was a much-needed rain day. I caught this globe allium hanging onto some water droplets.

On Wednesday, May 1st in the afternoon we were visited by some 5th and 6th graders from Washington Middle School and went through a number of Garden Basics - including a stop to taste some delicious sorrel.

In the morning on Thursday, May 2nd, first graders from Two Rivers School visited to go on what they called a “Pollinators Expedition!” As a part of our Pollination curriculum, we explored the butterfly garden, played the pollinator game, and checked out these awesome pollinator displays.

Meanwhile, soaking up all that rain from Tuesday, our broccoli florets silently began to form.

Visitors are welcome anytime the National Arboretum is open, Friday through Monday 8am to 5pm. Families are also invited to join in a Saturday morning Family Garden Day – you can learn more on our website.

In The News …

Hope everyone is doing all right in the earthquake aftermath!

Teens Find a Safe Haven: Alternative House provides homeless students shelter (Great Falls Connection): “ Jones is part of a growing number of teens in Fairfax County who are considered homeless or ‘unaccompanied’ — without parents, guardians or reliable shelter — but remain in the school system. In 2009, according to Alternative House, there were 104 homeless or unaccompanied students; in March 2011, Alternative House counted 225 such students. ” Since 1972, Alternative House has evolved into a dynamic system of services designed to keep young people off the streets by offering safe and accessible places where they can get help. (You can help out here!) Continue reading