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Richland Library farmers market provides access to cheap, healthy food in Columbia’s food desert

Every Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. until 1 p.m., Richland Library Main hosts a farmers market as part of an ongoing initiative to bring access to affordable nutrition to the community.

The market, launched in November of 2017, has been a popular attraction, said Emily Stoll, Community and Media Relations Coordinator at Richland Library.

“People have been very excited about the farmers market here. We’ve had more than 100 sales each week which totally exceeded our expectations,” said Stoll.

The market provides cheap, fresh food in an area that is often considered a food desert. And with this in mind, the library strives to make it as accessible as possible to everyone in the community. In addition to accepting cash, credit and debit, the market also accepts WIC, SNAP and food stamps.

Stoll said the need for these benefits was apparent when Richland Library’s social workers noticed an increased number of their clients applying for SNAP. In response to this need, the library gave customers the ability to pay using these benefits and made social workers available to help with SNAP applications at the farmers market.

Emma Rush, an Intern Social Worker with Richland Library, assists with SNAP applications during the weekly farmers markets.

“A lot of people that I talk to find it super helpful that we’re able to do SNAP applications here and that we have the farmers market, just because we are in such a central hub and there aren’t necessarily many grocery stores right around the corner. It helps kind of eliminate barriers for people, which is what social workers are all about,” said Rush.

According to Rush, Richland Library sees 25 to 30 SNAP applications each month. And because the applications are electronic, they’re sent straight to the Department of Social Services without the need for going down to the department and waiting in line to fill out paper work.

The idea for the farmers market was originally brought forward by Tracy Allen, the director of library experience at Richland Library Main. Allen said she was struck by the need in the community and got the idea while visiting another farmers market in the area. According to Allen, and as evidenced by the smile on her face, seeing her idea finally come into fruition has been extremely gratifying.

“I love it. I’m so happy,” said Allen. “I just love that people are happy. I love that my staff is able to get fresh fruits and vegetables. I love that people are talking to each other who usually would not even talk to each other because they’re online … It’s just everything a library is supposed to be.”

Allen’s hope for the future is that there will one day be a farmers market at each Richland Library location. And with the addition of a farmers market on Mondays at Richland Library Sandhills, this dream is one step closer to becoming a reality.

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