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.