2016 Local Hero Awardee: Oona Coy and Ben James
Each year, CISA presents Local Hero Awards to farms, businesses, or individuals who exemplify our mission of strengthening farms and engaging the community to build the local food economy. We applaud their hard work, social responsibility, and many contributions to sustaining local agriculture.
In 2008, after scouting the town for months by bicycle for the ideal location, Ben James and Oona Coy settled on the plaza nestled between Thornes Marketplace and the Northampton parking garage as the home of the brand new Tuesday Market. Today, the market is a thriving fixture of the local food scene, bringing cultural vibrancy and fresh, healthy food to the community.
Living in Northampton and running their own small vegetable farm, Ben and Oona envisioned a bustling sales outlet for local growers and a unique community space. They wanted the market to be equally about farmers and about bringing people together. Ben says, “We asked ourselves: what’s going to get people meeting each other, and how do we enliven an existing public space and make everyone feel welcome?”
Twenty-five farmers, artisans, and other vendors currently make up Tuesday Market, selling fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and cheese, honey and maple products, mushrooms, medicinal herbs, pizza, and other prepared foods. It’s no small feat to build a new farmers’ market. Yet Tuesday Market has quickly become a viable sales outlet for local farmers, a destination for families, and a vibrant space for art and music, as well as occasional theater and dance performances.
For Ben and Oona, it was always a priority to ensure that the food and sense of community at the market would be accessible to people of all income levels. With a small grant provided by the Northampton Health Department, Tuesday Market was one of the first local markets to invest in the machine needed to process SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps).
In 2010 Ben and Oona raised funds and launched a program called FoodStampsX2, which aimed to make local food even more affordable by doubling SNAP dollars spent at the market. That program led to an immediate increase in SNAP sales and brought countless new people to the market. It also led to a partnership with Healthy Hampshire and CISA, creating today’s SNAP & Save program, which in 2016 will match SNAP at markets throughout the Pioneer Valley.
Now, after eight years, Ben and Oona are feeling the pull to challenge themselves in new ways, and they have recently finalized the sale of the market to Grow Food Northampton, a Northampton-based nonprofit. They look forward to the changes that fresh energy and new ideas will bring to Tuesday Market. “It’s interesting to imagine how the market is going to change and reflect what people really care about in the future,” says Ben. “I want to be a community member who shows up at the market and is surprised.”