FreshLink was a five-year research project that worked with community partners to increase access to healthy food in Cleveland and East Cleveland, Ohio, by evaluating and improving how people receiving SNAP benefits (food stamps) use farmers’ markets and the Produce Perks program. The project was based on peer-to-peer outreach to promote awareness of and social connectedness to markets. By bridging residents to resources, the FreshLink Ambassador model helps to foster healthy communities.

 The Mary Ann Swetland Center for Environmental Health at Case Western Reserve University is continuing to develop the FreshLink Ambassador Approach.

If you would like to learn more about the FreshLink Ambassador Approach and the technical assistance resources available, please visit here. 


FreshLink took place in four phases over five years:

  • PHASE 1: An extensive survey of SNAP recipients regarding use and experience with farmers’ markets

  • PHASE 2: In-depth interview research about food habits and social networks

  • PHASE 3: Developing the model for and recruiting FreshLink Ambassadors to promote farmers’ market use throughout the community

  • PHASE 4: Disseminating the FreshLink model and providing technical assistance to individuals, organizations, and communities interested in adopting this model within their own context

FreshLink Ambassadors

FreshLink Ambassadors are community members trained and hired to spread the word about farmers’ markets and the Produce Perks incentive program. FreshLink Ambassadors have participated in a series of trainings provided by the Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods and receive support from our facilitation team to become knowledgeable about the benefits of farmers’ markets in our communities. Ambassadors take a social approach to nutritious food access. Currently, there are no other known social approaches being used to engage SNAP recipients with farmers’ markets in the area. 

The Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods has worked with three cohorts of ambassadors:

In 2018 summer outreach, four influential community members were chosen to be FreshLink Ambassadors. These four women represented six neighborhoods where farmers’ markets were located:
  • East Cleveland – Coit Road Farmers’ Market 
  • Cudell – Good Earth Farm Stand
  • Shaker – North Union Farmers’ Market at Shaker Square
  • Glenville – Gateway 105 Farmers’ Market
  • University Circle – North Union Farmers’ Market at University Hospital
  • Slavic Village – The Village Market 

Similar to 2017, the ambassadors used the training and knowledge they gained through FreshLink to be the social connector between residents and farmers’ markets in these specific communities. FreshLink was able to conduct outreach in six neighborhoods in 2018, and all participating markets from 2017 decided to join the program again in 2018. We thank these amazing and dedicated women for spending their summer increasing awareness, spreading knowledge of nutritious food, and promoting access to farmers’ markets to Cleveland residents.

In 2017, the Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods had the opportunity to work with and learn from eight community ambassadors who conducted outreach in the Cudell, Glenville, and University Circle neighborhoods of Cleveland to promote the utilization of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and Produce Perks at local farmers’ markets. Their work influenced our ambassador intervention style and methods of conducting outreach in the community. We thank them for their dedication to nutritious food access in the Greater Cleveland community!

The Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods established its first FreshLink Ambassador cohort in 2016. Working as a team, our two ambassadors conducted outreach in the Glenville neighborhoods to invite residents to the Gateway 105 Farmers’ Market.
Our pilot cohort was instrumental in sharing their recommendations for improvements to the ambassador model based on their experiences during the 2016 market season. We thank them for their key contributions to this work.

Community Partners

FreshLink would not be possible without our terrific community partners. FreshLink is strengthened by their expertise, sharing of resources, and active participation in the research process.

  • Case Western Reserve University 
  • Prevention Research Centers
  • Cuyahoga County Government 
  • The Ohio State University: College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
  • Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition
  • Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland
  • Cleveland Botanical Garden
  • Greater Cleveland Neighborhood Centers Association
  • Greater Cleveland Food Bank
  • Cleveland Public Library
  • Cleveland Department of Public Health
  • Neighborhood Family Practice
  • City of Cleveland
  • North Union Farmers Market
  • Cleveland State University
  • Entrepreneurship and Village Preparatory Schools
  • Good Earth
  • NEON Health Services
  • Circle Health Services
  • Cleveland Clinic
  • University Hospitals
  • Coit Road Farmers Market
  • NEO Restoration Alliance

FreshLink Team

  • Darcy Freedman, MPH, PhD (Principal Investigator)
  • Erika S. Trapl, PhD (Co-Investigator)
  • Elaine Borawski, PhD (Co-Investigator)
FreshLink Staff
  • Rachael Sommer, LISW, MSSA (Program Manager)
  • Lauren Vargo, MUPD (Intervention Implementation Facilitator)
  • Roberto Martinez, MD, MPH (Data Manager)
  • Kimberly Bess, PhD: Human and Organization Development,Vanderbilt University
  • Punam Ohri-Vachaspati, PhD, RD: School of Nutrition and Health Promotion, Arizona State University
  • Colleen Walsh, PhD: School of Health Sciences, Cleveland State University

For additional questions about FreshLink or the FreshLink Ambassador Approach, please contact Rachael Sommer.