Thursday, July 30, 2009

Doing Farmers Markets the Right Way

Farmers markets are gaining popularity as a way to bring fresh produce to those living in food deserts. Whether farmers markets improve consumption of fruits and vegetables or impact obesity rates has yet to be determined. But such efforts are a step in the right direction to helping people eat a healthier diet. However, simply setting up a farmers market in a food desert without ensuring it is conveniently located, adequately promoted, offers appealing products, or provides education on how to prepare fresh produce will probably not result in many sales.

A recent Chicago Tribune article shows how several African-American churches around Chicago are doing things right. These churches have partnered with local farmers to bring fresh produce to their congregants, many of whom rely on convenience stores for their food. Weekly farmers markets are held in the church parking lots with onsite nutritionists and demonstrations on preparing traditional African American recipes in healthful ways.

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables reduces the risk for a host of diseases, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Both of these diseases plague racial and ethnic minority populations at much higher rates than whites. Farmers markets, community gardens, and other efforts to improve access to fresh produce should be continued, as well as finding ways to overcome barriers. One problem that has hurt farmers markets is the inability to use the electronic benefit transfer cards now given through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly the Food Stamp Program).

Alyson Hazen Kristensen, MPH
Senior Fellow & Program Officer
Partnership for Prevention


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