Giant trees grow out of tiny seeds and anyone looking for a giant tree in Lynn can walk to Central Square on Thursdays during the summer and fall and stare in wonder at the crowds flocking to the farmers’ market.
Appearing as if by magic on a vacant lot in the shadow of the commuter rail tracks, the market is a crowded, joyful place where vendors sell all varieties of produce and where customers line up in anticipation of buying inexpensive food to ensure their families have nutritious diets.
The market began with two farmers offering their produce for sale downtown. Fifteen years later, according to Food Project Regional Director John Wang, the market is on the verge of selling out of produce every Thursday.
Part of the reason for the high demand placed on the market is the connections established with programs that allow low-income people to get assistance in buying fruits and vegetables. Linked to ongoing work by the Food Project and Project Bread in Lynn, the assistance efforts mirror the income and poverty profiles of Lynn residents.
According to a Project Bread hunger profile, the median annual household income in Lynn is $47,429 compared to more than $68,000 statewide. The poverty rate in Lynn, according to Project Bread statistics, is 20.2 percent compared to the statewide 11.7 percent poverty rate. More than 15,000 students attend Lynn public schools and free and reduced price lunch participation is 74 percent.
Noreen Kelly, Project Bread’s director of programs, said the face of hungry people in Lynn is the face of working poor people. Families may have one, even two adults employed, but family incomes are stretched thin across basic expenses, including shelter and food.
The helping hands working to end hunger locally are found in the public schools, churches and community institutions like the Lynn Community Health Center and Salvation Army. They provide meals, vouchers to buy food or produce at sites like the farmers’ market to supplement meals.
Many helping hands help feed the hungry in Lynn and programs like Project Bread and the Food Project can’t sustain their work without support from city officials and help from the city’s state legislators.
The solutions to reducing and ending hunger in Lynn are tied to employment and, in turn, to job creation. Kelly and Wang said helping local residents meet nutritional needs year round is important: Students need free and reduced meals in the summer as well as the school year and they need places year round where they can buy inexpensive produce.
With that goal in mind, local food providers are hoping to find a site for an indoor farmers’ market to open once a month from December to May. Lynn has always been a giving city and branches providing shade to the city’s neediest are growing even as the need grows.