FreshFarm and Community Foodworks announced Tuesday that the organizations are merging, creating what will become the third-largest group in the United States dedicated to farmers markets, food access and sustainable agriculture. The combined organization will be led by Hugo Mogollon, a native of Ecuador who has turned the small Community Foodworks into a respected organization known for its work in underserved communities.

“Both organizations are very excited about the future,” Mogollon told The Washington Post. “I think both boards have done a great job exploring what this [merger] would mean for both organizations and what it would mean for the food system in the region.”

The combined organization, which will operate under the FreshFarm name, will employ a staff of 60, manage 33 farmers markets in the D.C. area and represent a network of 240 local farmers and producers. Mogollon said the only larger farmers market organizations in the United States will be GrowNYC and the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association.

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The new FreshFarm, Mogollon added, will not cut any staff, close farmers markets or shutter programs such as FreshFarm’s FoodPrints food education initiative or Community Foodworks’ signature Pop Up Food Hub, which distributes local produce to 52 organizations, including early-child-care providers and school garden programs.

“Actually, both organizations are very complementary,” Mogollon said. “We believe that having a strong organization is going to help us bring better services to all our farmers markets, so we could increase the opportunities for farmers.”

But at least one farmer who works with FreshFarm said he worries that the merger might mean something else for both the organization and the farmers.

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“Who’s going to stay and who’s going to go?” wondered Mark Toigo, owner of Toigo Organic Farms. “Because the only reason I see why people [merge] is to, quite frankly, get rid of the fat.”

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Yet, according to Ann Yonkers, co-founder of FreshFarm, the organization wasn’t looking for a merger. Mogollon suggested the idea to FreshFarm when he saw the organization was searching for a new executive director. The two organizations had worked together on some initiatives and have similar missions. A merger could assist a mature organization such as FreshFarm as it looks to “reach customers who aren’t coming to farmers markets or get into institutional settings where the quality of food is low,” Yonkers said in an interview with The Post.

By all accounts, Mogollon is the guy to help grow an organization. In his five years as executive director of Community Foodworks, he developed a number of initiatives to get locally grown produce into the hands of low-income residents, including the Food Hub and “satellite vegetable stands.” This year, Mogollon was one of three executive directors to earn an Excel Award for innovative leadership at nonprofit organizations with annual budgets of $10 million and less.

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“He saw an opportunity for a niche for Community Foodworks, which was very focused on markets in lower-income areas,” Yonkers said. “This was an area where farmers markets could play a broad new role. He saw that, and he strategically positioned them to do some really important work in those kinds of markets. It wasn’t haphazard. I think it came from a vision he had.”

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Added Mary Rose Conroy, board chair for Community Foodworks, in a statement provided to The Post: “Having seen Hugo shine throughout the many challenges of growing a small nonprofit, I know he and the staff are more than ready to take our collaboration with FreshFarm to the next level through this merger.”

Mogollon is working under a shared services agreement, which means he will serve as executive director for both FreshFarm and Community Foodworks until the legal details of the merger have been finalized. A spokeswoman for FreshFarm said the merger could be complete by the end of the year.

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FreshFarm’s new executive director said the merger will create “more opportunities for farmers and food access. At the same time, we believe farmers markets need to be strengthened in the region. … There are a lot of opportunities to approach local governments and other stakeholders so we can work together to see what farmers markets need and how we can improve their presence.”

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Correction: A previous version of this story stated the merger between FreshFarm and Community Foodworks grew out of interviews with Hugo Mogollon when he applied for the job of executive director. Mogollon suggested the merger when he saw the position was open.

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