More than a Market

Oxford Community Market Wins 2nd Place in National Contest

Photo courtesy: Samantha Dakauskas

As the director of the Oxford Community Market (OXCM), Betsy Chapman exhibits a multitude of skills, ranging from fundraising, marketing, grant writing, and outreach operations. These are necessary to combat a large problem in the Oxford community: Food insecurity. 

To adequately address food insecurity, it is first important to understand its meaning. “It is not just about hunger,” said Chapman. “It’s about individuals or a family’s access to sufficient quantities of nutritious food.” 

The farmers’ market plays a key role in offering that nutrient variety, which would otherwise be in the expensive aisles of the grocery store. It’s a common misconception that farmers’ markets cater to the wealthy; Chapman assures that price-wise, “a lot of the produce that you’ll find at the market is on par with what you would find at the grocery store” and that you have full agency over your spending budget. 

“We have some customers who spend lots of money at the market, and we have some who come and spend a few dollars on some fresh, homegrown tomatoes,” said Chapman.

Economic factors and the many preconceived notions about the farmers’ market are the primary barriers to consumers. Eliminating these barriers required Chapman to do research. To make the market cost-friendly, she looked to other markets around the country as models for addressing food insecurity in their communities. Implementing EBT system technology for community members to use their SNAP benefits, as well as a twenty dollar-for-dollar match at the market, were major steps to expanding access. She also established two other nutrition incentive programs supporting seniors and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) members. Opening these doors for more vulnerable groups provides invaluable nutritional and social benefits that strengthen the community as a whole. 

Most of these benefits are priceless. Chapman describes shopping at the farmers’ market as a healing, energetic experience which juxtaposes the stressful rush of the grocery store. 

“The vendors are excited to be there. The customers are excited to be there….To me, it’s like a local little food and family reunion every week,” she said. This vibrancy is evident in the intergenerational interactions between students and older farmers which shows how the market “brings people together who might not otherwise cross paths.” 

This community gave invaluable support and healing when Chapman’s own family was struggling. 

“My family went through a really terrible time, a tragedy…It was a long and very scary time for me… They [farmers market community] kept the market going in my absence, they stepped up and did the things that I would normally do. They were really there for my family when we needed it the most.”

This community compassion helped guide the market to winning second place in the 2021 American Farmland Trust Farmers Market contest. The Oxford community’s drive to win reflected the strength of the market’s familial foundation. 

Votes exploded and, according to Chapman, “the entire community got involved in finding all kinds of creative ways to promote the contest within their social circles.”

The market could not have won without the skills and commitment of UM students. Chapman describes how sororities, fraternities, and campus organizations used their social media channels to promote the contest. This student commitment traces even further back; whether it be nutrition students crafting healthy budget-friendly recipes, marketing students drafting strategies to connect with the community, or ASB offering future student rewards cards, “it’s been a team effort.” 

With such an important mission, Chapman anticipates continued growth. “Starting a market is easy. Keeping it going is harder. And keeping it growing is even harder.”