Food insecurity is a growing issue in this country. Defined by the USDA as a “lack of consistent access to enough food or an active, healthy lifestyle,” food insecurity affects 10.5 percent of households in this country. That equates to 38.3 million people.
Enter Fibonacci Brewing in Mount Healthy, Ohio, whose owners not only recognized that their corner of the world has several food-insecure residents but also have been taking action to help the community. In 2019, the brewery opened a farmers market and a year later, introduced two programs that make buying fruits and vegetables more affordable.
A brewery might sound like an unusual place to host a farmers market. Until, that is, you remember that beer is an agricultural product, its ingredients sourced straight from the land.
That’s exactly what Betty Bollas thought, too, and ironically, she had always hoped that somebody would open a farmers market in Mount Healthy. Yet when she and her husband Bob opened Fibonacci, she concluded that somebody was her. “I realized with the acre-and-a-half urban farm and a large beer garden we have, we were in a position to do more,” she says. On its urban farm, Fibonacci produces eggs, honey, and mushrooms and is home to three goats and 10 chickens. It even offers Airbnb accommodations in its farmhouse.
She was also aware that Mount Healthy has numerous areas that are food insecure, including just a few blocks from the brewery, and it hit home. “My husband and I grew up with single mothers, and he was on the school lunch program so we know what it’s like to struggle,” she says.
By hosting a farmers market that could tackle food insecurity, Fibonacci would also be helping its community, one of the reasons the couple opened the brewery in Mount Healthy where they also live. “We wanted to be a community centerpiece,” she says. That community spirit, in fact, is felt every time somebody orders a pint of its Oberhausen Kolsch. Fibonacci has a Charitable Giving Program which gives 10 percent of pint sales (after taxes) from this beer to a different local organization every month.
Saying that you want to start a farmers market is one thing, but a market can’t run without vendors. Fortunately, Fibonacci had already established relationships with numerous growers, namely because it strives to use at least at least one local ingredient in all of its products. Bollas also spent countless hours contacting farmers and vendors, going after small businesses who were growing as sustainably as possible.
While most of the responses were positive, one vendor said it wouldn’t be worth his time to be in her neighborhood. “He told me that people here don’t have the money to spend at the market,” she said. That only emboldened her to make the market a success, and during its inaugural year in 2019, she ran the market from May through November with 14 vendors. The response from vendors? “You know you’re doing well as a market host when vendors are inviting other vendors to participate,” she says.
Yet operating a farmers market doesn’t automatically equate with aiding food insecure individuals, and for that, Bollas had to get creative. In 2020, she did a massive amount of legwork before introducing two ways for these individuals to access healthy food at an affordable price.
First, Bollas set it up so that the market could accept Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) dollars. SNAP is a USDA program that aids income-eligible families in buying healthy foods.
She then brought Produce Perks to the market. The program, which is available to anybody receiving SNAP in Ohio, makes it more affordable for individuals to buy fruits and vegetables by matching SNAP dollars. For every $1 that an individual spends with SNAP, Produce Perks matches up to $25 by offering free Produce Perks tokens that can be spent on fruits and vegetables at the market. “Produce can be a little more costly at markets, but this makes it more affordable,” Bollas says.
Getting the word out about these programs, though, takes time, and in 2020 when Bollas introduced them at the farmers market, the pandemic had just hit, and attendance was understandably low. Yet in 2021, there was an uptick in attendees, and feedback about these initiatives has been positive. “People are happy when they find out we have that option,” she says.
To get the word out, she’s been partnering with local organizations like the food pantries and a community health care facility, but she realizes this may take time. “It may be several years until this comes to full fruition, but we’ll keep building relationships and getting the world out as best as we can.”
Fibonacci runs the Mount Healthy Farmers market on the first Sunday of each month from May to November. There, you’ll find not only about 15 vendors but also live music and a food truck. And of course, there’s always beer, including an option that does good so you can, too.
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