Objective: This What Works for Cities case study examines how the establishment of a community farmers’ market in Springfield, Oregon started with intentions to expand access to healthy fresh food to low-income residents, and grew into a catalyst for economic development and revitalization of the city’s downtown area.
Main Topic: Neighborhood revitalization
Geography: Springfield, Oregon
Major Participants: The Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation (NEDCO); the City of Springfield, OR; the Springfield Public Schools; Willamette Farm & Food Coalition; and the Lane Coalition for Healthy Active Youth
Background: For many years communities in Oregon’s Willamette Valley have suffered from a persistently high rate of food insecurity. Ten years ago, the region had five identified food deserts, where access to affordable healthy food was extremely limited. In Springfield specifically, an estimated 27% of families received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) support and 22% of families with children lived below the federal poverty line.
In an effort to expand access to fresh, healthy food for low-income residents, the Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation (NEDCO) partnered with the City of Springfield to open a farmers’ market in the community. Its 2008 launch was a success, and the market quickly turned into a hub for local activities, contributing to the revitalization of downtown Springfield. NEDCO also facilitated a SNAP matching program that added a dollar to every two dollars customers spent at the market, which further expanded access to healthy foods in low-income households.
NEDCO partnered with the city again in 2010 to launch the Hatch Business Incubator, which provides business support services to local entrepreneurs. Through Hatch, NEDCO gained insight on the local business landscape and quickly realized that the food industry was the only one showing growth during the global recession of the late 2000’s. The incubator brought forward many residents eager to open food carts, small farms, and other food-related businesses, but who were constrained by a lack of resources such as access to capital and commercial kitchen space.
With a newfound spotlight on the food industry, NEDCO leveraged funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 2011 to purchase a former church property. Branded the Sprout! Regional Food Hub, the property was transformed into a 3,000 square foot event space that accommodates a year-round indoor farmers’ market and retrofitted with a certified commercial kitchen. Sprout! would be a hub for food entrepreneurs and planned to offer a business development program to food-related businesses. The Sprout! Regional Food Hub opened its doors to the community in October 2012.
How it Works: The Sprout! Farmers’ market operates every Friday from 3 to 7 p.m. Meanwhile, the commercial kitchen serves as an affordable resource that food entrepreneurs can use to prepare food, test products and refine business ideas. When the space is not in use it’s rented out, generating revenue for NEDCO’s other programming, including Sprout!’s commercial kitchen workshops where residents can learn new skills like pickling vegetables or how to make jam. These workshops are offed to the community on a sliding scale to ensure that all residents are able to participate. NECDO also continues to offer its SNAP matching program, which provides access to affordable fresh food to low-income residents on a more consistent basis, now that the Farmers’ Market is open year-round.
Sprout! also houses the Hatch Business Incubator, which NEDCO refocused on supporting the food industry as part of a larger economic development strategy. Research shows that increasing food consumption by just 1% would help keep $12 million in Lane County’s economy annually, while every $100,000 worth of local commodities traded has the ability to create 2.2 jobs. That’s why Sprout! gives preference to food businesses in all of the programs and events it offers.
Results for the Local Economy: In its first year an estimated 30,000 people visited the Sprout! Regional Food Hub and more than 40 vendors sell their goods at the Farmers’ Market each year. Approximately 75 businesses receive business support or coaching through the Hatch Business Incubator and roughly two dozen businesses take advantage of the commercial kitchen space. Three small restaurants, a pub and a bakery have opened on-site. The estimated 20-30 people provided with SNAP matches each month equates to about $3,500 each year in additional fresh, healthy foods being consumed by Springfield’s low-income households.
It is estimated that Sprout! generates an estimated $3 million annually, making a significant economic impact on the local economy. Successful businesses that have come out of the Sprout! Regional Food Hub include:
Remaining Challenges: Although Sprout! has been a welcome addition to the community, Downtown Springfield still continues to struggle. However, NEDCO’s involvement is encouraging. NEDCO’s efforts have been a critical catalyst in other communities, like the nearby Whiteaker neighborhood. Here, NEDCO leased commercial space at favorable rents, helped those businesses grow, and then weaned them off subsidies in order to give the community the economic boost it needed. A similar approach is being used in Springfield: ideally, companies that flourish in the food hub will be able to rent space in the properties that NEDCO owns. Already, at least 13 companies have used NEDCO-owned properties as their business location.
Additionally the Sprout! building is facing expensive code upgrades, including a new fire suppression system. Fortunately, there is Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money available that, when coupled with NEDCO funding, should allow code improvements to be made in early 2017.
Lessons Learned: The support of the City has been critical to Sprout!’s launch and success. The City initially provided the space for the outdoor Farmers’ Market in 2008, which then grew into the hub that Sprout! is today. The City also made security, water, power, and restroom facilities available to NEDCO as they were getting the market off the ground.
Having buy-in from residents has also been important to the growth of Sprout!. “It very much took the entire community to rally together to gain support and funds to renovate the building and start the program,” explains Sprout! program assistant Aaron Rourke. The community helped to create the vision for downtown Springfield, and Sprout! aligned with that vision.
Lastly, providing wraparound services has proven to be an essential aspect of Sprout!’s popularity and success. It not only provides assistance to local businesses through the Hatch Business Incubator and commercial kitchen, but also provides services to local consumers like the SNAP match program and educational workshops. These diversified services have helped to unite and strengthen a community around Sprout!, solidifying its importance to residents and the local economy.