Summer isn’t quite the same without fresh corn, beans, okra and tomatoes, but many Georgians don’t have easy access to the state’s bounty of produce.
This summer, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension is working in DeKalb and Fulton counties to build a network of food oases to help serve residents who have a difficult time finding fresh vegetables due to limited mobility, lack of transportation or lack of well-stocked stores or markets. UGA Extension in Clayton County will launch a similar mobile market in July.
“Our mobile markets are helping to address the critical issue of food access in the Atlanta area,” said Jeff Miller, urban UGA Extension coordinator. “Working together, UGA Extension agricultural and natural resources agents, family and consumer sciences and 4-H agents teach patrons about where their food comes from, how to prepare their meals for optimal health and the value of a varied non-processed diet.
“Mobile markets in Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton counties are excellent examples of how UGA Extension is helping to meet the needs of communities across Georgia.”
For the second year, UGA Extension in DeKalb County has partnered with the DeKalb County Board of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to bring the DeKalb Mobile Farmers Market to neighborhoods across the county.
Traveling from site to site in a converted mint green school bus, UGA Extension personnel meet with people across the county and offer them farm-fresh produce at market prices.
The mobile market also features weekly cooking demonstrations and healthy recipe ideas. Cooking and nutrition information are provided by DeKalb County Extension agents through the USDA-funded Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, or EFNEP, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education, or SNAP-Ed.
“The DeKalb Mobile Market is already off to a great start for its second season,” said Von Baker, DeKalb County Family and Consumer Sciences and EFNEP UGA Extension agent. “The DeKalb team is excited about having the opportunity to provide fresh produce to DeKalb citizens at a competitive price.”
Last year, the mobile market served nearly 1,600 people and sold 9,800 pounds of fresh produce. The 2016 season started the week of June 6 and the market served 450 residents during its first 10-stop circuit. The market sold twice the amount of produce its first week of the 2016 season than it did during the first week of 2015.
“I think this is a great idea,” said Roger Hopkins, who met up with the mobile market at the Lou Walker Senior Center on June 9. “It keeps us from having to drive too far to the farmers market, and when our community is able to find fresh vegetables like this, it's a good thing.”
Hopkins, who is an active 67-year-old, sometimes wants to avoid the crowds at his local farmers market and the drive required to get there. For him the mobile market is convenient, but for some of the older members of his community, it’s a lifeline to a healthier diet.
The success of last year’s market was due in large part to buy-in from community members like Hopkins and in part to cooperation between departments in DeKalb County’s governments and the UGA Extension Office, Baker said.
A team at DeKalb County Public Works’ fleet maintenance department retrofitted the mobile market bus, a hand-me-down prisoner transport bus from the DeKalb County Sheriff Office. A bus driver for the county’s Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs drives the bus, and the DeKalb County Board of Health helps get the word out.
The entire staff from the UGA Extension office in DeKalb County — from administrative assistants to agriculture and natural resources agents — takes turns to keep the mobile market rolling while maintaining their usual workloads.
The market will run 16 weeks through the summer, and a full schedule of its stops are posted at DeKalbmobilemarket.com. Residents can call 404-298-4080 or email mobilemarket@DeKalbCountyGA.gov for more information.
The concept for the DeKalb Mobile Farmers Market is based loosely on UGA Extension’s success with the Fulton Fresh Mobile Market. Metro Atlanta’s original mobile market kicked off its sixth season at the beginning of June. It’s been delivering fresh produce, along with a healthy dose of nutrition information, since 2011. In that grant-funded program, participants receive produce in exchange for attending nutrition classes.
With two food trucks serving 14 sites across Fulton County, Fulton Fresh continues its goal of helping county residents become healthier — one bag of fresh produce at a time.
“We are excited about this season,” said Menia Chester, director of the UGA Extension office in Fulton County. “This will be our sixth season visiting communities to provide education and fresh produce to residents wanting to learn how to live healthier. Over the years, we have had residents return to the program to let us know that the information they received was helping and encouraging them to eat better for their health.”
For more information about the Fulton Fresh Mobile Farmers Market program, call 404-332-2400. For the 2016 schedule, visit fultoncountyga.gov/fcced-home.