Meet Joyful Food Markets: The Pop-Up Farmers Markets Bringing Food and Fun to Families in Need

These pop-up farmers markets bring fresh food—and fun—to families in need.

When was the last time you line danced at your local farmers market? For families who rely on Joyful Food Markets for healthy food in Washington, D.C., dancing is just part of the fun.

“We incorporate music, dancing and costumes to make an exciting and vibrant market,” says Donna Banzon, director of healthy markets at Martha’s Table, a nonprofit that supports children, families and communities.

Joyful Food Markets pop up each month at 53 elementary schools in the nation’s capital and have become “community events to enjoy and promote healthy food—something everyone deserves” she adds. Joyful Food Markets were launched in 2015 by Martha’s Table in partnership with the Capital Area Food Bank and DC Health. Read up on how a 13-year old proves there’s no age limit for giving back.

In neighborhoods where many residents have to ride the bus for an hour to shop, the markets are set up in schools because parents and caregivers “are already there, picking up their children after school,” Donna says.

Joyful Food Markets provide a 15-pound bag of groceries at no cost to the school’s families. About 70% of each bag consists of fresh produce and pantry shelf staples like pasta.

Fresh produce at the local farmers market. Assorted vegetables. All colorful.; Shutterstock ID 717007189; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOHAndreyCherkasov/Shutterstock

When the COVID-19 crisis forced the Joyful Food Market program to pause their community events, the gatherings may have stopped, but the giving didn’t. Volunteers continued bagging the groceries to be picked up grab-and-go style every week at D.C.-area schools. Did you know that Brad Paisley’s free grocery store has also started delivering?

The program also began sharing “Quarantine-n-Cook” recipes on social media, encouraging program participants to cook healthy meals at home. Try these inexpensive, healthy dinners at home, too.

It’s this kind of engagement—whether shared through social distance or gathered together at the market—that keeps families coming back. Families tell Martha’s Table that they look forward to Joyful Food Markets each month, and have noticed that their children are more willing to try new foods after sampling them at the market. And, Donna says, “That’s something that really gratifying to see.”

When quality food is made readily available for hungry families, big changes happen:

  • 52,300 children and their families visited Joyful Food Markets last year.
  • The number of JFM families who consume vegetables at least five days a week increased by 15% after participating in Joyful Food Markets.
  • The number of JFM families who consume fruit at least five days a week increased by 19% after participating in Joyful Food Markets.
  • 69% of families who visit Joyful Food Markets feel more food secure since the markets have been introduced.

If you’re inspired to give back, please help Feeding America’s fight to solve hunger by visiting feedingamerica.org 

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