2020 PFIG Recipient Molly Cullen

Jessica Meyers

Journal Entry #1

This summer I am working as a Local Food Access Intern with the Farmers Market in Richmond, Indiana. The Farmers Market is run by the City of Richmond’s Department of Parks and Recreation. I just finished my first week as an intern and helped run my first farmers market this past Saturday. We had a lot of customers and vendors at the market this week, all interacting while wearing masks and social distancing. But the Farmers Market in Richmond has not always been as popular as it is now. The market has actually seen great progress and expansion in the last few years. One reason for the increase in market vendors and customers was a capstone project from Earlham College which outlined initiatives that would encourage more residents to utilize the market. The study was published in 2014 and most of the suggestions from the students have been implemented in the market today. The City also received a grant to build infrastructure for the farmers market, which included a grassy concert venue, public restrooms, and a large parking lot to hold many vendors and customers at the market. Another great aspect of the market that encourages residents to stop by is the SNAP Double Dollars Program: SNAP recipients can have their dollars doubled when purchasing food at the market. The program is sponsored by Reid Health Community Benefit, and provides increased access to fresh and local foods to lower income residents. Due to the COVID pandemic, every household with children in the public-school system received $300 in SNAP dollars. This has dramatically increased the number of customers using SNAP dollars at the market. Food insecurity is a significant problem in Indiana, especially in Richmond where the city has seen a population decline in the last few years. One of my roles as a Food Access Intern is to run EBT cards and talk to customers about the Double Dollars Program. I think the Double Dollars program is a great step towards decreasing food insecurity in Richmond, and providing greater access to fresh and local foods for residents. Additionally, the program helps make the Farmers Market an inclusive and welcoming environment for people of all incomes.

Besides helping to set up, run, and break down the weekly farmers market, I work in an office four days out of the week. I work in the Parks and Recreation office building along with about 12 other people. I think I started my internship at a great time, because my supervisor, Caleb, had just recently discovered a USDA grant that the City is eligible to apply for. This grant is the Community Compost and Food Waste Reduction Project from the USDA and Natural Resources Conservation Service. The grant application involves writing a summary, proposal, and budget for a Pilot Composting Project in the City. I have been working to draft a proposal and application alongside Caleb. I was able to use knowledge about composting and community engagement from my previous job as a Green Dining intern at UVA to come up with ideas for the project. For example, one aspect of the project will involve setting up an educational booth at the farmers market to inform residents of the new composting program in the city. The booth would also have a waste-sorting demonstration and bin for residential compost, and for compostable material from the Farmers Market. Another area of the grant involves food recovery. This booth would also serve as a collection site for produce that vendors were not able to sell at the market, to be distributed to local food banks and charities. I am really excited to help write the application for this grant because if the City receives the funding, the composting and food recovery program would be a great way to decrease food waste and increase food security in Richmond.

My first week has been packed with exciting and meaningful experiences, and it has been a great introduction to this role. I selected this internship because I am interested in local food systems, sustainable agriculture, and social justice. Just based on my first week here, I can tell that I made the right decision to travel to Indiana and work as the Local Food Access Intern. I have had great interactions with the community through the Farmers Market and I am learning so much about Richmond’s local food system. I feel like my role has an impact when I get to educate the community about local food and help residents to take advantage of their SNAP Double Dollars. As one of only 3 other interns, I also feel like I will gain the skills necessary for a career in public service by working closely with my supervisor and the rest of the staff. Being tasked with writing a grant in my first week is certainly helping me develop these skills, and also makes me feel like a valued member of the department. My first week in this role has definitely affirmed my interest in food systems and public service since I am working directly with members of the community and their local food system. Looking forward, I am excited to talk more with the local farmers and vendors about their agricultural practices, and to learn about other community initiatives in Richmond that help to increase food security and access. While I was initially very excited about this opportunity, I did not expect to enjoy and appreciate this job as much as I do. I am really looking forward to the rest of this internship!

Journal Entry #2

This Friday marks the end of my fifth week as a Local Food Access intern with the Richmond Farmers Market and Parks Department. I had the opportunity to work on some really exciting projects over the last month. I started out my internship by helping the Parks Department write and plan a grant application to the USDA to request funding for a composting program in the City. Composting and food waste reduction are two things that I am passionate about, and I am glad that I was able to help write a grant for such an important issue. This was also a great opportunity to get acquainted with grants and the grant-writing process, which I think will be a great skill to have for my future career in the public service sector. We do not find out if the City received the grant until after I leave, but I am planning to keep in contact with my boss to see if funding is awarded. If funding is awarded, the project will begin in September and last for 2 years. I really appreciated being able to help write the grant application during my first two weeks because it allowed me to meet collaborators, interact with staff in the office, and get used to my intern role very quickly.

A large part of my job is dedicated to helping the Online Market run as smoothly as possible. The City of Richmond and the Farmers Market received a grant from a local organization to allow market vendors to set up an online market on a platform called Local Line. This grant was awarded to enable a smoother transition to online browsing and ordering, which was necessary to limit contact between vendors and customers due to COVID. During my third week I began working on a guide to teach our market vendors how to set up the online market. To create this guide, I set up an account on my own and acted as a produce vendor. This allowed me to accurately describe the process and provide the vendors with screenshots of which buttons to click. I think this will be very helpful to the market vendors since many do not have experience setting up and maintaining online markets. My most recent project has been to create “vendor scorecards” to distribute to the vendors who use the Local Line platform. The scorecard is based on a set of criteria, such as if the vendor’s page has contact information, a profile picture, a bio describing their store, pictures of their products, and other material that make their online site as eye-catching and straightforward as possible. I had a lot of fun designing the layout of the scorecard using Canva. I organized the scorecard in such a way that vendors will be able to easily understand their score and know what areas of their online market need improvement. My boss and I plan to distribute these scorecards on Saturday morning at the farmers market, so we can be there to answer questions about the cards or the online platform in general. We hope that the scorecards will help increase the use of the online platform and also increase the amount of purchases from customers. Right now, the grant covers 20 online market users. The City wants to ensure that those platforms are being used to their fullest extent to limit in-person contact and increase the purchasing of food from our local farmers. This has been a really fun project to work on, and I am excited to keep working on projects to help our market vendors.       

One of my favorite activities as a Local Food Access Intern is going on site visits to the farms of potential market vendors. I get to hear from the farmers about their career as a small-time farmer; we learn about the struggles they go through to market and sell their products, and the changes that COVID has brought to their business models. On Wednesday we visited a dairy farm where the owner produces artisan cheese. He mainly sells to wholesale distributors but is looking at working with the Farmers Market to sell more retail products. The farmer gave us a 3-hour tour of his cheese processing plant and 1300-acre farm. We got to sample his best artisan cheeses and meet his dairy cows and goats. It was an extremely interesting tour for me because I had never encountered cheese production. I learned so much about cheese-making, dairy cows, and the legal issues surrounding cheese production. Apparently, the European Union had sued certain American cheese producers who are descendants of Europeans and sell European-style cheese. Our potential cheese vendor also told us about his legal battle a few years ago over the copyright to one of the names for his cheeses. I had no idea how seriously cheese-producers take their craft and how competitive the businesses are. The site visits are rewarding because we get to interact with the vendors at their farm while they show us what they are passionate about. I have learned a lot about family owned farms and organic farming by being able to attend these site visits. I am excited to go on more site visits and continue learning from our market vendors and farmers during my time in Richmond.

Journal Entry #3

This past week has been my last week as an intern with the City of Richmond, IN and the Richmond Farmers Market. This internship has been very rewarding and challenging in both personal and professional ways. The people that I worked with were very welcoming and seemed to be genuinely dedicated to their roles in the City. My boss, Caleb, took the role of Farmers Market Coordinator right after he graduated college. I think this made me examine the role of Farmers Market Coordinator at a deeper level, to see if it was a career choice that I could also make after I graduate. I had never considered working directly with Farmers Markets before this internship, but my interests in local food and farming make being a Farmers Market Coordinator a possible job path for me. I also learned some important lessons about working in government and the public sector. For example, we had the opportunity to meet with the City’s Communications Director who taught us how important it is to have reliable and transparent communication with the public. One of the most important takeaways from this internship is that communication and trust between government officials and the public is vital to the success of any government program or action. This communication can be through social media, websites, or accessible representatives and employees. When the public trusts that their government is doing everything they can to serve their needs, a stronger relationship is built between the two. Having access to some of the City’s social media accounts, I was able to see the amount of communication that occurs between the public and city officials on these platforms, and the balance employees must maintain between being professional and being transparent. I was also able to see this trust being built between Caleb (Farmers Market Coordinator) and the Market Vendors. Caleb has been in his role for 3 years and it is clear to me that the vendors and farmers trust and respect him. This trust is especially important right now, since COVID-19 has forced Caleb to make dramatic changes to the market. His openness and honesty with the vendors and customers are part of what makes the Farmers Market a great experience for the Richmond Community, even during a pandemic.

I have enjoyed every opportunity I had to make an impact on the Richmond Community and help run the farmers market. During the last few weeks, my main responsibilities included performing phone call outreach in hopes of partnering with local charities and churches to promote our SNAP Double Dollars program. We are working to spread awareness of the program in the Richmond Community, and one of the places we post flyers and hand out pamphlets is at community food banks. After reaching out to these organizations, I printed flyers for the SNAP Double Dollars Program and sent them to our partners in the mail. One of my other tasks involved working on Excel to create a graph of in-person and online vendor sales for the past few months, to be able to compare the popularity of the online farmers market and the in-person farmers market. My favorite task this past week was designing an Instagram story and post template to be used weekly as a “Vendor Spotlight” post. Each week the Richmond Farmers Market Instagram will post a Spotlight for one of our vendors, as well as an Instagram story highlighting their products, story, and reasons for attending the Farmers Market. Having a clear theme each week on the Instagram page allows our followers to recognize the “Vendor Spotlight” and become excited to read about their vendors and farmers. I created posts for about 7 weeks after I leave; hopefully this is something that the vendors and customers enjoy so much that it is able to be continued in the future.

This internship also challenged me in areas outside of the office and farmers market setting. Being 7 hours away from my friends and family for 2 months was difficult, but it allowed me to fully experience adult life without being at college or living at home. I used my free time to learn new recipes and cook for myself and my roommate. I challenged myself during this internship to eat on a vegetarian diet, and I had so much fun creating and trying new dishes. Working at the Farmers Market gave me access to so many fresh and local fruits and vegetables that I rarely bought these items at the grocery store. Living in a completely new place during a pandemic was slightly challenging because it was difficult to get to know anybody outside of the office through other activities. I wish that I had more opportunities to explore the local bars and restaurants in order to get to know the people of Richmond a little bit better. If I had one piece of advice for a student considering an internship in a town far away from their home or college town, it would be to immerse yourself in the town and become familiar with the people that live there. Working at the Farmers Market every week has given me the opportunity to get to know the farmers, vendors, and customers, which allowed me to become better at my role as a Farmers Market intern. I believe that if you are given a task that requires you to know a little bit about the community that you are working for, it is your responsibility to connect with the residents as much as you can. Doing so was rewarding both personally and professionally because I was able to better understand the needs of the community and become more appreciative of living in the town itself. These are some of the reasons that I had such an amazing experience living and working in Richmond, Indiana. I am so grateful for the UVA Parents Fund and their generous grant that allowed me to live and work here without having to worry about making money through another job. I am excited to go home, but I am also sad to leave as I have enjoyed living and working in the City of Richmond. Thank you so much, UVA Parents Fund, for this amazing opportunity that has allowed me to learn and grow as an individual and as a future public servant.