June 15, 2014

‘Pay what you can’ farmers market helps needy

The creators of go-go fresco – Charlotte’s first mobile market – say their first two pay-what-you-can markets are proving a success so far.

Imagine a store where struggling families pay half price, and food is delivered to the neighborhood.

It sounds like pure fantasy, but the creators of go-go fresco – Charlotte’s first mobile market – say their first two pay-what-you-can markets are proving a success so far.


Go-go fresco President Nick Knock (yes, Nick Knock) says the key is a willingness of the “haves” to help out the “have-nots” waiting in line around them.

Some people pay a little extra so others can pay half price, he says. And the market accepts food stamps.

“We have good weeks and some bad weeks, but it balances out,” says Knock, who runs go-go fresco with Leconte Lee. “It’s inspiring to see the hearts and generosity of people who don’t think twice about paying more so someone in need can get fresh food.”

It’s an experiment that began three months ago, when go-go fresco expanded its weekly mobile market schedule to include two stops where low- and middle-income families cross paths: The YWCA on Park Road and Children and Family Services Center on Fifth Street.

The YWCA hosts about 100 low-income people enrolled in two housing programs, while the Children and Family Services Center is home to nearly 10 nonprofits offering aid to children and families.

Fans of the sliding-price scale include YWCA member Maha Swede, who lives in southeast Charlotte.

“I think most people will throw in a dollar or two to help out. I just have them round up the cost to an even number when I buy things,” says Swede. “It’s a tangible way to help someone who lives paycheck-to-paycheck, and I like the idea of supporting an entrepreneur.”

Department store employee Jacqueline McClain, 46, is a cancer survivor and among those who have had to buy food at a reduced price from the market. She is enrolled in the YWCA’s Women in Transition program and is preparing to start a job-skills program.

“It helps when you are short on cash,” said McClain. “If you don’t have the money, you give them what you have and get a healthy meal. With my breast cancer, I want to make sure I eat healthy.”

Go-go fresco owners consider it the city’s first “pop-up” farmers market, with a series of weekly stops at houses of worship, office buildings and community organizations around Charlotte. The business sells seasonal produce from area farms and other items from local food makers. A portion of profits go to nonprofits.

Only two of go-go fresco’s nearly 10 weekly stops operate on the sliding-price sale. Knock says it started when he began looking for ways to help low-income people in Charlotte’s “food deserts,” communities that don’t have easy access to grocery stores.

Tom Warshauer, Charlotte’s community engagement manager, suggested he start with the nonprofit YWCA, which has a broad mix of income levels enrolled in its programs.

YWCA officials say the market, which runs 5-7 p.m. Mondays, was an immediate hit with members and has become popular with people from surrounding affluent neighborhoods.

Knock admits there have been instances where customers offered to pay so little, it crossed his mind that they were taking advantage of a good-hearted concept.

“But then I saw that they only had $3.19 left on their (food stamp) account, and I got choked up,” he says. “They were spending what little money they had left at our market. It was mind-blowing when you think they were able to get food because of us.”

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