An Interview with Andi Emrich
Andi Emrich is a member of the Florida Food Policy Council and the Coordinator of the Florida Farmers Market Association. Andi graciously sat down with us for an interview to talk about her interest in food policy, current projects, and hopes for the future.
Please introduce yourself.
"My name's Andi Emrich. I'm the Coordinator for the Florida Farmers Market Association. It's a new organization under the Florida Organic Growers which has been around for over 30 years working with farmers across the state, advocating for all kinds of different issues that face farmers today. I've worked with agricultural or environmental organizations, non-profits back home in Canada where I'm from. I've worked with the Department of Agriculture back in Canada as well implementing cattle traceability projects and other environmental projects as well.
I moved to Florida 3 years ago, maybe a little bit more, with my husband who is doing a PhD at the University of Florida in Gainesville and I became part of Florida Organic Growers just about the time we moved here. So I've been working with them for a few years now. And now, like I said, I'm working as the Coordinator for the Florida Farmers Market Association.
My work right now mostly involves providing educational opportunities for folks that are within the Farmers Market world here in Florida. So vendors, farmers, farmers market managers, folks that are attending and buying from farmers markets as well."
When did you first become interested in food policy?
"I think I first became interested in food policy when I started college back home in Canada. I was in an interesting program called Renaissance College, which is a super liberal arts college where we had a lot of freedom to explore our interests and pursue basically whatever interests we had.
One of the outcomes of that program that we have to show growth and competency at the end in effective citizenship, and I think that's probably where I first got my introduction to policy and what we can do within our communities, whatever size community that is, whether it's your local town, your neighborhood, state, province, and I felt that I could really have an impact on the issues that really interest me."
In what ways does your job intersect with food policy?
"The Florida Farmers Market Association is a new organization that we are starting to get off the ground, but what we're trying to do is create a central organization where vendors, farmers, market managers, can come together and talk about their concerns, talk about their issues, talk about what they need out of farmers markets and hopefully, we can become the advocate for those needs and address those needs at state and local levels. So, where it intersects, is going to be pretty direct. What we'd like to do is hear from those that are directly involved in farmers markets and direct to consumer selling, find out the issues that they need addressed and we can advocate for them at those levels, state and local."
What are some gaps or challenges that can be addressed by food policies?
"Some of the challenges that we're seeing that need to be addressed through hopefully policy is ensuring that what is available at markets is truly local produce from local farmers. That's not always the case and there aren't always policies in place or regulations in place to ensure that that's what's happening at farmers markets. So we'd like to address that and try and make clear that when you are going to a farmers market, you're getting a consistent sort of experience. You know that you're going to get local produce and you're going to be talking with your local farmer.
Other challenges is making local healthy food accessible to everyone. So we work closely with Feeding Florida that oversees the Fresh Access Bucks program, trying to get the doubling of EBT or SNAP at farmers markets known to more farmers market managers and getting those programs to continue and grow throughout the state."
What current projects are you working on?
"Some current projects and initiatives we are working on with the Farmers Market Association are really based in education. We just finished up our third of five symposiums taking place throughout the state, and these symposiums are entitled "Growing a Stronger Economy Through Local Food Entrepreneurship." So we are trying to provide opportunities for those within the farmers market community, those selling direct to consumers, farmers, all those people that we're trying to help with opportunities for learning, sharing skills, gaining skills, that sort of thing in topics like financial planning, financial literacy, food safety issues, community kitchens, just different topics within the farmers market umbrella to broaden people's skills and to provide them with an opportunity really to connect with other folks that are in this community.
We are also working on webinars that will have some very specific topics that we'll be covering. Those should be rolling out in the next few months. They'll be available on our website and we want to do some live webinars but have them available as well to view in the future that we hope will make it a little bit easier for everyone to take part because we know that travel can be a barrier for folks. We know that people are working on their farms a lot too, so it makes it hard to come out to these events for a whole day. So if we can provide those that would be a great resource for folks to gain skills and knowledge.
We are rolling out the Florida Farmers Market Toolkit, which will be available this summer 2020. It'll be a resource where you can go anytime to look at topics of food safety, marketing, anything again to do with farmers markets, and selling your goods at direct to consumer at markets. That'll be a great resource, so stay tuned for that. You can always find that on our website.
We also have a map that we're developing. That is a place where we can promote Florida farmers markets and also direct folks that want access to farmers markets. It's an easy place where they can go to find that closest market in their area. So if anybody's interested in being featured on that map, they can get in touch with us."
What are your hopes for the future? How can policy get us there?
"Our hopes for the future within the Farmers Market Association are really to connect all these silos that we have throughout the state in terms of farmers markets, farmers market managers, and the vendors that we can connect to those managers and to those markets. We'd really like to create a central location for them to come together and actually communicate with one another. It's so easy to stay within our silos but if there's a problem that you have, likely somebody else in the state has already gone through it and we can share that knowledge and get it moving around more easily hopefully.
Using policy, we'd like to create safe, accessible, profitable, transparent markets. So that means making more markets, helping people create more markets throughout the state if they are needed, putting them in areas that don't always seem like the easiest choice for putting a farmers market, but somewhere that we can help make healthy local food more accessible to more communities. Again, ensuring that the food that folks are going to the market for, they are actually getting. So local, healthy, and profitable. We really would like to make sure that there are farmers markets available to the vendors, to the farmers, to the folks that can really benefit from direct to consumer marketing, and we think that that will help us create stronger and more healthy communities throughout Florida."
Florida Farmers Market Association website: www.foginfo.org/ffma
Florida Farmers Market toolkit (coming soon!): www.farmersmarkettoolkit.org
Bio: Andi Emrich is the Coordinator for the Florida Farmers Market Association based in Gainesville, Florida. She is originally from New Brunswick, Canada where she started her career working with farmers to implement on-farm environmental projects. She has worked on multiple organic farms in Canada, California and Florida, and now spends her spare time digging in her backyard and arranging flowers for friends.
Disclaimer: The views of the interviewee do not represent the views of the Florida Food Policy Council. We are a forum for the offering and sharing of information and encourage diversity and communication within the food system.