By Mason Gendron
Now in her fourth year with the Oxford Community Market, Betsy Chapman views Oxford’s take on a traditional farmers market as a way forward rather than a glimpse in the past.
Chapman’s leadership at OXCM—located in the Old Armory Pavilion on University Avenue—continues to grow the market’s influence to new heights as she implements programs that confront issues often overlooked and ignored in the fresh food industry, such as food insecurity and affordability.
Though Oxford’s reputation as a beautiful small town often hides the presence of many who struggle with food affordability, Chapman sees increasing awareness of this as a positive change for the community as a whole.
“I think farmers markets have to overcome the reputation that they’re just for certain types of consumers, and one of the ways we do that is through a variety of outreach programs that address food insecurity and help support consumers who have barriers to accessing the foods we think should be accessible to everyone,” Chapman said.
Through her work in the market, OXCM is Oxford and Lafayette county’s only farmers market that partners with Mississippi’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and, through this, provides a “dollar-for-dollar” match to SNAP recipients who buy groceries at the market from any of its many vendors.
“It’s a small thing we do to help mitigate those cost barriers for fresh produce,” Chapman said.
Chapman’s programs to combat social issues surrounding food continue to develop and progress as time goes on. A more recent initiative OXCM has created to address food affordability is the distribution of Market Fresh gift cards into the community in areas such as Oxford’s Food Pantry, which are often frequented by individuals who make more money than necessary to qualify for SNAP benefits but still struggle with the costs of providing food for their families.
“I was visiting the food pantry and just had this lightbulb moment that we could be expanding who we could help, so we came up with this idea—which is supported by United Way—and we’re starting to get a really good response. Many were redeemed at our first market this year,” Chapman said.
For the future of OXCM, Chapman finds contentment in constant progress. Though her first few years as market director have been focused on keeping the market stable and running, she is proud of the image and role OXCM has built in the community.
As she moves forward with new initiatives, one of her key focuses is to help OXCM’s loyal vendors by providing marketing assistance and developmental aids to the small business owners who make themselves at home at the Old Armory Pavilion every Tuesday.
“We want to provide more than just a place for them to show up and sell…we want to help them succeed wherever they are,” Chapman said.
The OXCM sets up every Tuesday from 3-6 p.m. To view the vendors, follow this link.