By Chris McGregor, Board Member
One of Peoria Grown's core programs is Market 309. These weekly pop-up markets sell low-cost fresh fruits and vegetables in Peoria’s low-income neighborhoods and to students on a local college campus. These markets are a unique model, one part food pantry, one part farmer’s market, and one part grocery store. We sell the produce, but at significantly discounted prices. Although we take donations from local gardeners and farmers, our primary supplier of fruits and vegetables is a retail grocery store.
During Peoria Grown’s early days, we investigated many potential routes to take for addressing the chronic food insecurity we see in Peoria’s low-income communities. One route was community gardening. There are many empty lots in Peoria’s southside that would be great spaces to establish community gardens. Many organizations already operate established gardens around the city. However, after speaking with community members and listening to their top priorities regarding food access, we concluded that another community garden may not be the best route for our organization to take. With community gardens, one barrier residents encounter is simply the lack of time to garden and grow vegetables for themselves. If you are working multiple jobs to make ends meet, you are not going to have the time or energy to devote to gardening. The physical labor of gardening is also a barrier for people with disabilities. These also happen to be the folks most at risk of food insecurity in our communities.
While we didn't find a demand for community gardens, we did find one for a market that could provide affordable, convenient, and consistent access to fresh fruits and vegetables in these neighborhoods that have no other option available after the last grocery stores pulled out. What we heard from residents and the needs that they expressed to us led us to open Market 309. By listening to the folks who live in the neighborhood and responding to their needs, we have seen tremendous community buy-in and success with the Market 309 program in the last year.
Addressing food insecurity is very difficult and will need dedicated organizations attacking it from all angles. Community gardens and urban agriculture can absolutely be a net good for a neighborhood. They activate unused space, provide fresh foods, promote social interaction and cooperation, and deepen education about where food comes from. They are a part of the solution that we hope to work more closely with in the future, but for now, Market 309 is our way addressing the food insecurity crisis facing Peoria families.