By Tamara Orndoff
Jefferson County Community Food Advocate––Summer 2018

I had a meeting with a journalist this morning at 9 am. I am a Community Food Advocate with LiveWell Colorado’s Double Up Food Bucks (Double Up), so they contacted me with a request to be interviewed. My schedule is tight, so I contacted Jennifer, the journalist, and invited her to accompany me on a market tour at the Lakewood Farmers Market, located in the parking lot of the Mile Hi Church at the corner of Alameda and Garrison in Denver. My alarm was set for 6:30 am, yet I hit snooze every five minutes for an entire hour. At 7:45, my son texts me: ‘you awake?’ My response: ‘sorta.’

I’m so physically exhausted, my knees are hurting. And really want to return to dreamland. My son brings me some magnesium spray for my knees and starts the kettle. Along with being super tired, my calendar is so full I can’t seem to find enough time to spend with my teen son, who is about to start high school. I feel rather down today.

It’s now 8:15. It’s time to go. My dog is wagging her tail, licking her chops and following me around, as she sees me grab the cloth bags with the apple logo on them representing Double Up. I have to giggle, she lifts my spirits but a farmers market really is no place to bring her.

I realize once I pull into the parking lot and see Jennifer that the market is not open just yet. So we end up standing outside for half an hour talking. Jennifer is my age, with a teenage son as well, so right off the bat, we have plenty to talk about.

Once we see people walking out with fresh corn, homemade quiches, and bags filled with colorful produce, I feel like a little kid—excited! I’ve actually come to love the social experience. It’s much more fun than sitting at home or going to the grocery store. People are always friendly and talkative, and I always meet someone new, learn new ways to prepare produce, (I’m always looking for ideas with root vegetables), the presentation of produce at the farmers market is much more appealing than a grocery store. The smells, colors, and kindness are everywhere. It’s so uplifting!

We start at the information booth, which is where Diego, the market manager, is setting up his booth. Sometimes it’s hard to find the information booth, so I look for the Double Up symbol. Not only is this where to redeem SNAP benefits with an EBT card, but it’s the best place to ask what produce is in season and if there is anything special going on in the market.

The first thing that catches my eye is a huge brown stump—a taro root! I have never seen a real taro root, so I am overwhelmed with excitement! I always try to respect produce and not touch anything I don’t plan to buy. I knew this was going home with me today so I pick it up and examine it closely.

I tell Diego I would like to get my SNAP cash and Double Up Food Bucks. He gets out his phone, with a square scanner that reads credit cards and scans my card. I enter my password, hand him back his phone, and he pulls out $20 worth of SNAP Dollars (these literally look like monopoly money) and $20 of Double Up Food Bucks (these look like colorful coupons). We chat about what he has at his stand today and my intentions for my visit (I want to start prepping for fall/winter). He shares several ideas on what I can do with the taro root and offers lots of ideas on how to dehydrate corn. I know this information is readily available on Google. However, this is what makes the farmers market unique. If you want to talk about produce, farmers LOVE to share!

I knew Jennifer was limited on time, so I scanned the market and decided to visit specific vendors. We started at a fruit stand, where I put several peaches and two handfuls of plums in my bag. I handed the bag to the vendor; he weighed it and asked for $5. I tore off five Double Up coupons and handed them to him. A few people standing beside me asked, “What are those, and where do you get them?” I love this part!  As a community food advocate, the energy I bring to the market becomes contagious! Often, I don’t find many people shopping on SNAP, but sharing what Double Up is about is a great means of planting seeds. I share flyers and stories and tell people “YOU can do what I do.” I’ve never met anyone that didn’t want to help others in some way, and just knowing about Double Up is a simple start.

With peaches and plums in my bag, I head to the local flower/herb stand. I am in need of some mint seedlings, as I stated. I’m exhausted and in need of much energy! Mint, along with many other herbs, is a natural stimulant and the smell alone is enough to charge my energy and help my brain function at a higher level again. OH, THE AROMA! WOW! I approach the vendor, asking to purchase a few plants with my Double Up Food Bucks. He asks if, in fact, seedlings can be purchased with Double Up Bucks. I pull out some signage and flyers (ready for this, because to me, this is the super cool part of my ‘job’) and share with him what the DUFB program is and that HE qualifies since he provides locally grown seedlings!!  I purchased with my Double Up Bucks,  four plants, two spearmints, and two mojito mints.

I then head over to a local vendor sampling a beautiful display of cantaloupes, watermelons, honeydew melons, and lots of root vegetables. Four dollars for a ripe, yummy cantaloupe was hard to resist (Cantaloupe has more beta-carotene than apricots, grapefruit, oranges, peaches, tangerines, nectarines, or mangoes). Did you know that once eaten, beta-carotene is converted into Vitamin A and acts as a powerful antioxidant to help fight free radicals that attack cells in your body? Yep, I learned that at the farmers market.  I doubt I’ll be needing to visit a doctor anytime soon. This local farmer, a man in his late 70’s, also shared with me that if I ate “his onions,” I would get kissed after dinner. Now we all know no one wants to be kissed after eating an onion, but as a single gal, the extra added idea of that kiss sealed the deal.

I returned to Diego, picked up the taro and corn he put aside for me and got a big hug. So much love at the farmers market left me feeling energized, happy, and even more excited to get home to cook and plant my mint. Sharing this experience with Jennifer, a journalist who writes for several major American daily newspapers, such as The Washington Post, was like sharing a good time with a special friend.

On the menu this week, with my purchases from the farmers market: Braised Taro, Sweet Potato Bruschetta with Tomato/Avocado Topping, Taco Stuffed Summer Squash Boats and Cantaloupe Juice. A feast, for sure!

LiveWell Colorado’s Community Food Advocates engage existing Double Up Food Bucks Colorado (DUFB) and SNAP participants as well as other community members to spread the word, face to face and neighbor to neighbor, about the Double Up program and how to use it. Advocates are provided stipends and mileage for their work.