Iona Pop-Up Market a “Dream Come True” for Low-Income Older Adults

August 1, 2015

(From left to right) Regency House President Elect of the Resident Council Shirley Pettus, and Iona staff members Jakia Muhammad and Ashlea Steiner show off their colorful spread at the Regency House Farmer’s Market. Shirley calls the market a “dream come true” for her residents.

A colorful flag hangs across the doorframe to an otherwise gray basement room. Inside, you’ll find red-checkered tablecloths, trays of yellow squash, fresh apples, and melt-in-your mouth tomatoes. Welcome to Iona’s Regency House Farmer’s Market.

The “pop-up” market was conceived by Iona’s Farm to Table Coordinator Ashlea Steiner as a way to bring free, fresh local produce to residents of Regency House — the only low-income public housing option for older adults in Ward 3. Every second Monday of the month, Iona staff members bring their smiles, recipe ideas, nutrition tips, and (of course) fresh produce directly to Regency House. The program, which began this past May, has become a staple for many of the residents.

“We have one gentleman who will be here no matter what,” says 83- year-old Shirley Pettus, President Elect of the Resident Council, and a resident herself for nearly 30 years. “He loves it. If there is anything left at the end of the market, he’s taking it for a salad. He’s always talking about it.”

And he’s not the only one. Lining up outside the market’s door, residents “ooh” and “ahh,” as they peek their heads in to catch a glimpse of this month’s spread. Once inside, the market is a bustle with residents’ exclamations — “Oh, I’m going to cook tonight!” — and greetings as they catch up with neighbors. Ashlea stands nearby answering questions about unfamiliar vegetables. On their way out the door, they hug and kiss Shirley and thank Iona again for the produce.

For many older adults on a limited income, having to choose between healthy foods and rent, transportation, or even medicine is a daily reality. But, the Market helps lighten that stress. Additionally, residents can also try new foods they would normally ignore due to price.

“Strange foods, I call it,” jokes Angela Davenport, a resident of Regency House for 12 years. “You expose us to different fruits and vegetables that I wouldn’t otherwise purchase because of my limited funds.”

Similarly, for Angela’s neighbor Patricia Bryant, the market gives her the freedom to purchase other food items without sacrificing her health. “I love string beans, and I love broccoli. But going to buy them at the Safeway or Giant is expensive,” she says. “Now, all I have to do is go upstairs and enjoy!”

Written by Rosie Aquila

Rosie Aquila is Iona’s Communications and Marketing Manager. A graduate of Kenyon College (where she worked as editor for the college’s newspaper), Rosie joined Iona’s team in 2014.