Farmers’ Markets – Healthy food with a side of community involvement

We know that fresh fruits and vegetables are vital to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to buy and cook them. In fact, many urban areas are classified as food deserts, meaning that residents have to travel several miles to find stores that offer fresh produce and other healthy foods. If fresh produce is difficult to access, or only available from expensive health food stores, it is often more difficult to make healthy choices, and instead we often choose an easier, but less healthy option.

One way that many communities are trying to eliminate the barrier to healthy eating is by establishing local farmers’ markets. Wholesome Wave is a national non-profit organization that partners with farmers’ markets, community leaders, healthcare providers, and government entities to implement programs that benefit both consumers in underserved communities and the farmers who provide for them. They work to implement programs such as Double Value Coupon Program, which increases the value of federal nutrition benefits at participating farm-to-retail venues, ensuring that customers get more value from their money. Programs like these offer access to fresh, healthy foods for people who otherwise wouldn’t have it, and also provide a boost to the local economy by encouraging residents to buy foods that are produced locally rather than at a large supermarket chain. You can view the Double Value Coupon Program: 2011 Outcomes Report to see how the results of the program. The 2010 report Farmers’ Markets Initiatives: Promoting Fresh Fruits and Vegetables in Underserved Communities examines various strategies that the New York City Health Department implemented to improve access to fresh, locally grown produce through farmers’ markets, and the impact that the strategies had on the community.

Think about your community: do you live in a food desert? You can use the USDA’s Food Desert Locator to get a spatial overview of low-income neighborhoods with high concentrations of people who are far away from grocery stores in your area. Does your area already have a farmers’ market? Would there be interest in starting one? A farmers’ market is a great way to encourage healthy eating while providing an opportunity for community members to connect and socialize, while also supporting the local economy. If you’re interested in starting a farmers’ market in your community, but you’re not sure where to start, see Chapter 3: Assessing Community Needs and Resources for information on how to identify potential partners, and Chapter 4: Getting Issues on the Public Agenda for advice on how to inspire enthusiasm for the project. And sites like Fair Food Network provide useful resources on what is already working in communities across the nation.

2 Responses to “Farmers’ Markets – Healthy food with a side of community involvement”

  1. Clara Thomas says:

    The Institute of Responsible Technology and many others are fighting to get genetically engineered food out of our food supply due to the health issues it causes. Why doesn’t government agencies, such as the USDA and FDA prevent them from being the only source of food for the majority of Americans? Even organics have been contaminated with GMOs now. I have a report which states that 27 different FDA scientist warned the FDA not to approve GMOs. At this point, it appears that access to fresh fruits and vegetables won’t solve our health issues if the food from farms are lacking in nutrients and toxic to our bodies. What would you recommend the average American do about this problem?

  2. WorkGroup says:

    Clara, that’s a great point. With technology advancing so rapidly in the past few years, it is sometimes difficult for the legislative system to keep up. One of the areas where that is most apparent is in food safety and regulations on genetically modified crops. Right now the FDA and USDA do not require labels for foods that have been genetically modified. However, many people feel that consumers deserve to have all the information about their food before they purchase it, so there are several movements underway to require notification if products contain any ingredients that have been genetically modified. For instance, http://justlabelit.org/, hosts a petition to the FDA to require food labels, and already has 1.1 million signatures. And ordinary citizens aren’t alone – there is significant support in the government for these measures – in March, 55 senators and congressmen sent a petition to Margaret Hamburg, the Commissioner of the FDA, supporting the petition as a means to “protect consumer rights and prevent consumer deception by requiring the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods.” So, the first step is to sign the Just Label It petition, and make sure that your voice is heard in that and similar forums. When people work together, they can accomplish great things, and if you continue to voice your opinion and advocate for your position, you will make progress. And although some produce is genetically engineered, most fruit and vegetables that you would get at a local farmers market will not be genetically modified – GMOs are far more likely to be found in processed foods containing soy and corn, so while you’re waiting for the legal system to catch up to technology, farmers markets are a great alternative for healthy, fresh food that is typically free of GMOs. And justlabelit provides some additional tips on how you can avoid genetically modified foods: http://justlabelit.org/take-action/8-things-you-can-do/.

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