A Journey Through Joyful Markets

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When I stepped through the swinging doors at 7:45 AM, I was greeted by Dushane Clark, one of our 13 truck drivers, who was smiling as he loaded up food. Several hours from then, this food would be going out to families and kids at a local elementary school through a Joyful Food Market – free, school-based markets in DC’s wards 7 and 8. These markets provide families with lots of fresh produce, which our parents report is often too expensive to purchase in grocery stores or simply not available anywhere nearby.

As Dushane and I drove together to Achievement Prep in Ward 8, he talked about the sense of fulfillment he gets from delivering food throughout the region. “It feels good to know that we’re helping people.” Soon, we arrived at the school and unloaded hundreds of pounds of food.

Later that afternoon, I joined the team from our partners at Martha’s Table with whom we run the market. We began the work of setting up. Bright red tablecloths, baskets for produce, educational activities, music streaming through a portable speaker. All items that contribute to the unique environment of a Joyful Market. Families have told us that the environment—music, food samples, cooking activities for the kids—gives them a sense of respect, dignity, and fun.

We sang as we displayed the colorful produce in the baskets and organized the garbanzo beans, tuna, sea salt grinders, and other items on tables. We were excited, knowing that at 3:45, the real fun was about to begin.

As school let out, children and their parents began to come through the line. As they signed in, they received a take-home sheet that contained the market menu as well as recipes and helpful cooking tips. Then, they walked through the line to choose their food. There were tomatoes, onions, lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, oranges, apples, and kiwis. Some kids were hesitant to take kiwis, so we started offering samples as they walked through, and suddenly they were going like hotcakes.

That’s the beauty of the market – that ordinary interactions are also opportunities for exploration and education. The little moments where a child chooses to take a kiwi because they got to try it first, or when they take part in a cooking demo, or when a parent sees the recipe for chickpea salad and decides to take those chickpeas after all. In fact, many participating parents report that, after starting to attend the markets, they’ve added more produce to their family’s meals.

After a few short hours of noise, music, and activity, the gym we’re in has fallen quiet again. A few produce leaves are strewn on the floor and cleanup is underway. Vegetables and groceries have been packed up and carried off, soon to be turned into meals that will fuel the kids and families who visited today. It’s a scene that’s repeated monthly at each ward 7 and 8 elementary school – every market a new chance for finding the joy in trying something new.

Kids enjoying quick bites at our Joyful Food Markets (photos courtesy of Martha’s Table)