Q&A with Fair Food’s Food Access Coordinator

Please join us in welcoming our newest Fair Food staff member, Emily Whitted! Emily came to us through the Quaker Voluntary Service (QVS) program, and will be serving as our Food Access Coordinator for the next 10 months. In this role, she is tasked with managing, promoting, and expanding Double Dollars—a cash-match program at the Fair Food Farmstand that increases access to healthy foods for all SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) beneficiaries.

If you’d like to learn more about food access in our region, ask for Emily the next time you’re at the Farmstand, or email her at emily@fairfoodphilly.org.

Fair Food: How did you first become interested in the issue of food access?
Emily Whitted: I grew up on a farm in rural Southwest Virginia, and my family raised free- range sheep, pigs, and chickens for restaurants and farmer’s markets. Only when I left for college in a big city did I realize how incredible the local food I’d eaten all my life was in comparison to what others had available in their urban neighborhoods. From that point on, food access was on my radar.

FF: Why is food access important?
EW: Food, to me, is an unalienable right. What we put into our bodies daily is so important to our development, energy levels, and overall health. Unfortunately, putting nutritious food into our bodies is something that much of our population cannot achieve because many neighborhoods do not contain grocery stores, farmer’s markets, or affordable, fresh food. And if that isn’t a strong enough selling point, food access intersects with larger systemic social justice issues, such as residential segregation, low-income immobility, and urban costs of living. Even though it’s just the tip of the iceberg, food access is an excellent place to start.

FF: In your opinion, what are some of the biggest challenges faced by food access programs? What factors contribute to (or hamper) the growth and sustainability of food access in certain areas?
EW: In my opinion, one of the largest difficulties is actually getting SNAP/EBT eligible people to sign-up locations. Affording transportation is already challenging when trying to reach food, and signing up for SNAP requires the transportation to get there as well. Once someone is on SNAP, however, food access programs just need to ensure that they’re making transportation costs as worthwhile as they can possibly be!

FF: What do you hope to achieve in the next 10 months as Fair Food’s Food Access Coordinator?
EW: Philly is a brand new city for me; I’m going to delve as deeply as I can into food access work here, and learn lots! I’m hoping to strengthen the Double Dollars program as much I can, and expand our outreach to achieve a more interconnected network of food access programs across the city.

FF: What are your impressions of Fair Food’s Double Dollars program so far? Have you collected any interesting anecdotes from your experiences managing the program’s day-to-day operations?
EW: I am already so impressed by the amount of loyal Double Dollars users who visit the Farmstand, despite the difficulties of transportation and the assumption that local, fresh food might cost more. Even though the Farmstand is in the heart of Center City, many SNAP users choose to travel to us to do their food shopping because of the benefits of our program. That has really energized me in my first few weeks here!

FF: Compared to similar programs in the Philadelphia region, what makes the Double Dollars program unique?
EW: One well-known program is Philly Food Bucks, which is run by the Food Trust. The Fair Food Farmstand accepts Philly Food Bucks, and the program has done incredible work towards more affordable, fresh food for Philly residents. For every $5 spent on produce, $2 in coupons are earned. One important difference between Double Dollars and Philly Food Bucks is that, aside from $5 in coupons earned, Double Dollars can be used on any SNAP eligible food instead of only fruits and vegetables.

FF: Is there any way our customers, friends, and industry partners can help increase the impact of the Double Dollars program?
EW: Spread the word!