Week 19, Day 4: Volunteer, 100% Certified

Each summer growing up, I volunteered to plant and harvest produce at a community garden. The harvested goods were then donated to local food pantries. Since then, I’ve had a keen interest in gardening and locally grown foods. One of the best ways to learn more about locally grown foods is the farmers market. While laziness keeps me from shopping at them as much as I like to pretend I do, I certainly have a soft spot for farmers markets.

20140607_Farmers_Market_03Fresh, local fruit? Yes, please!     

Call time for the Memphis Farmers Market was at 6:00 am.Never a graceful early riser, I set five alarms and promptly slept through all of them. I awoke in a cold sweat at 5:38 am and booked it downtown.

20140607_Farmers_Market_07The market in the wee morning hours.

It turns out I was the Memphis Farmers Market’s inaugural Volunteer Odyssey volunteer. I donned my yellow volunteer t-shirt that guaranteed I was 100 percent certified and set off for the information booth determined to do Volunteer Odyssey proud!

20140607_Farmers_Market_02Kat trying to do Volunteer Odyssey proud by counting t-shirts! Thank fortune her counting skills are up to par.

 The MFM is hosted out of the Memphis Central Station and volunteers know to expect at least one rumbling train on Saturday mornings. As I waited for instructions, I watched volunteers and vendors transform the station into a lively food market. Containers of color fresh fruits and vegetables appeared on tables, giving the concrete platform a complete makeover.

20140607_Farmers_Market_05

I was assigned to work alongside volunteers Nancy and Gale at the information table that sells MFM merchandise with fun slogans like Vocal and Local! and allows cashless customers to use debit or credit cards to purchase wooden tokens in five dollar increments to use at booths.

20140607_Farmers_Market_08Nancy getting vocal about local food!

One of the neatest things about the MFM is that it also accepts SNAP EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) cards.

The SNAP program (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) provides food assistance to low-income families through means of a debit-like card. Anyone with a SNAP card can take it to the MFM and purchase special SNAP tokens in one dollar increments.

MFM also has an awesome program called Double Greens–additional tokens that SNAP recipients may use on fresh produce. SNAP recipients can receive up to ten dollars’ worth of Double Green tokens absolutely free.

I try to keep a tight budget and still eat healthily, but can’t help feeling horrified whenever I purchase produce and watch my grocery bill soar. Produce never lasts as long as I hope it will. While running a lunch program for low-income kids a few years ago, I became more cognizant of how it can be cheaper in the short run for families to purchase junk food over more expensive, more perishable produce. That’s why I’m excited about the Double Greens program for SNAP recipients. Up to ten dollars worth of free produce? Heck yeah!

20140607_Farmers_Market_04Five-dollar MFM tokens… And they don’t expire!

The market opened and customers streamed in. Soon a bustling line of customers wanting tokens formed at the information table. Gale is a whiz at the electronic card reader and I know my way around with a pen and paper documenting transactions, so we made quite the team.

20140607_Farmers_Market_06Gale operating the credit card reader like a champ.

Then we switched roles. Cold fear gripped me as I swiped the first card and punched in the amount. This is real money! I kept telling myself. Don’t mess up!! Under Gale’s watchful eye, I somehow made it through without over or undercharging anyone.

20140607_Farmers_Market_01A very relieved return to pen and paper. 

Once 10 a.m. rolled around, I took a lap around the market and tried to justify buying every single pastry. I left the MFM feeling excited about its future and my future volunteering with them. A market that promotes locally grown and/or made items and is a resource for lower income families? That’s fantastic!

Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Kat Franchino is a freelance writer and an avid blogger. She will happily take on any writing challenges. Contact her at katfranchino@yahoo.com or jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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