An interview with the middle school student bringing fresh food to her community
By Allysan Scatterday
This summer, Marin Lissy is dreaming big and taking a chance. She's piloting a new program at Cedar Falls Park in Chapel Hill called Produce for Parks (PFP). The goal is to increase the flow of fresh food into the community while supporting local farmers.
"A park is a natural gathering place where people play and enjoy the outdoors," says Lissy. "That means that we have a captive audience at and around the park to provide healthy food. We can also draw in people who live in the area." The park is located in a food desert, meaning that without reliable transportation, people might have difficulty getting to a grocery store to purchase fresh produce.
PFP debuted last weekend with great success. With produce from two local farmers and the Chapel Hill Farmers Market, there were around 300 customers perusing and purchasing local produce. We recently interviewed Marin to find out what inspired her to take on this project and how it will impact her community.
1. How did you become interested in the food system, and what inspired you to start Produce for Parks?
The Junior League of Durham and Orange Counties (JLDOC) sponsored an essay contest that I won, along with a small monetary prize. In the essay, I was asked to answer the prompt, "How can you increase access to healthy food in your community?," and explain how I would use the money. One of my ideas evolved into Produce for Parks. I came up with the initial idea when I noticed how much use a park in my community was getting. There was a snow cone truck that would come through the park from time to time. I decided why not sell fresh produce, too?
2. How will this project impact your community? Who will benefit from the program?
The project will improve access to farm fresh, organic produce to an audience that might not otherwise have access to it. Also, community members will have a chance to interact with the people who grow their food. Oftentimes, we never have that connection. You don't get to meet the people who feed you. Community members are the people benefiting from the program. Produce for Parks is meant to promote healthy lifestyles (healthy food, fitness, and recreation) and support local farms.
3. What can people expect on a typical day at the PFP farmers market?
On a typical day, we will have produce from three vendors: Minka Farm, Jimmy Acres Farm, and Chapel Hill Farmers Market's vendors' collected produce. Produce availability is difficult to predict, but we can probably count on pawpaws, apples, and assorted summertime vegetables such as tomatoes, corn, squash, etc. We will post produce availability on our website before the PFP market.
4. Have you had any challenges getting this project started? How did you overcome these, and what kept you pushing forward?
Yes, I have had many challenges! One of the main challenges I face is the fact that I'm not an adult. That means that people don't necessarily take me seriously right away. I have to constantly prove myself. Another challenge was finding farmers. The winners of the Junior League essay contest were announced in May of last year. By the time I had gathered all the materials to start my mobile farm stand (June-July of last year), it was much too late. Farmers are working, not checking their emails! This year, I got an "early start" reaching out to farms, and I found three!
5. How will you determine whether the project is successful?
Produce for Parks is a trial effort. We don't know if we will be successful but certainly hope so! My "success spectrum" would mean: 1) How many customers show up and purchase produce; 2) How much positive feedback we get; and 3) If farmers are excited by the market and are willing to participate. I still consider it a success that I even managed to organize a market!
6. How can people learn more about Produce for Parks?
Produce for Parks has a website, http://produceforparks.wixsite.com/produceforparks, and our email is produceforparks (at) gmail.com. We also encourage people to stop by our market as well (Sundays between July 16-August 13 from 4-6pm at Cedar Falls Park)!
Marin Lissy is a middle school student in Chapel Hill. She is the organizer of Produce for Parks, and enjoys volunteering in support of the community. In her free time she enjoys playing guitar, reading, and spending with family and friends.