‘It kept me alive’: Kent residents rely on Walnut Park Free Farmers Market

For the past seven months, residents in Kent’s Walnut Park neighborhood have been able to pick up fresh produce and dry goods at an outdoor market on Friday afternoons. And everything is free.

The Walnut Park Market is one of four free cell phone markets in South King County operated by the nonprofit FareStart.

RadioActive’s Marian Mohamed lives in Kent and volunteers with FareStart. He talked to Walnut Park residents about what the market means to them.

[RadioActive Youth Media is KUOW’s radio journalism and audio storytelling program for young people. This story was entirely youth-produced, from the writing to the audio editing.]



When I arrived for my first volunteer shift at the free cell phone market, I saw tables piled high with leafy greens, rows of strawberries and mangoes, and bags of rice.

People came, took what they needed and left. And they didn’t have to pay a penny.

Every time I volunteered at FareStart’s free cell phone market, I saw long lines of people waiting to come into the store, even on rainy days.

One of the regulars is Annie Riggins.

Riggins has lived in Kent for more than 20 years, and she always carries her walker, friends and bright reusable grocery bags with her when she shops.

“The need is here,” he said. “They know the need and I hope it continues.”

Riggins said she loves the market because the location is convenient, the volunteers are friendly, and the food is fresh and free.

“It kept me alive,” he said. – It stopped me from going to the store. I am a brother and [the food] is a necessity. So it helped my life.”

FareStart is a non-profit organization based in Seattle. It has created mobile markets for communities like Walnut Park to provide free and seamless access to fresh produce.

Right now, FareStart operates one cell phone market in Kent and three locations in Auburn. Kent and Auburn have the highest food assistance needs in South King County, according to a FareStart study.

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We ate much healthier. Significantly. I think a lot of it depends on the market.
Ty Barroso

Meg Viera is FareStart’s director of community initiatives and her team oversees the operation of the mobile phone market. He said the market is part of local services that support food security and access to fresh produce.

“We’re looking to fill gaps through the mobile market, and that’s for people who aren’t geographically close or don’t have access or have transportation issues,” Viera said.

Funding for the market comes from private donors, companies, foundations and the Washington State Department of Agriculture. The money will help FareStart partner with Washington farms to bring local food to markets.

Viera said FareStart prioritizes buying food from farms run by black and indigenous farmers and farmers of color.

“We’ve had a lot of success working with Living Well Kent and another of their partners, Waculima USA,” Viera said. “They help us understand the ingredients we want and want and help us understand the products in the communities we go to market. I’m working.”

The variety of produce the market offers allows shoppers like 18-year-old Tyce Barroso and his mother to take home vegetables, fruits and grains.

“We ate much healthier. Significantly, – said Barroso. – I think a lot of it depends on the market. Because we don’t have to go through the hassle of going to the grocery store and getting vegetables there. I think fresh vegetables and fruit were so expensive that it was an extra reason to go out and eat healthy because we didn’t have to pay.”

The FareStart mobile market project is still in the pilot phase. Mobile Marketing Manager Bryce Harvey says they are always looking for ways to reach more people.

“We’re doing markets in different places, working with different organizations and fine-tuning and figuring out what works for us in terms of the mobile market,” Harvey said. “We’re continuing to do that right now. We hope to expand to other locations soon.”

Nidal Kedal usually comes to Walnut Park Market with his son. Kedal has lived in Kent for five years and learned about the mobile market from a flyer posted at the local YMCA. He said the market was profitable as food prices rose.

“You know, now the prices are going up, everything is very expensive. It is difficult, said Kedal. – This is a fresh product. It helped a lot of people, like my friend, my neighbor – they were happy with it.”

Local resident Abdul Bangura agrees. He said he found more than just access to food at this market.

“Connecting through food is really cool,” Bangura said. “Because I’ve lived here so long, I’ve seen many different phases of this neighborhood. So for me, it’s like a breath of fresh air to connect with people who are my neighbors.”

This market has made a huge difference in the lives of Walnut Park residents in less than a year. Kent residents can find them at Walnut Park Townhomes, 24817 112th Ave SE, Kent, WA 98030, every Friday from 3 to 4 p.m., according to manager Bryce Harvey.

But as the name suggests, the mobile phone market is not stable. It may move to another location in Kent in the future as FareStart learns how to better meet the needs of community members.

This story was released in Radioactive youth media“Advanced Producers” workshop for high school and college-aged youth. Production assistance by Kyle Norris. Edited and prepared for the web by Kelsey Kupferer.

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