For residents in some metro Atlanta neighborhoods, it can be impossible to find fresh produce because the closest well-stocked supermarket is geographically out of reach.
While policymakers and advocates of healthy, quality food debate long-term solutions for the problem of food deserts in metro Atlanta and across the nation, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension in DeKalb County spent the summer solving it one neighborhood at a time by bringing the produce to the people.
Working with the DeKalb County Board of Health with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UGA Extension in DeKalb County launched a mobile farmers market to bring fresh produce to nine underserved neighborhoods across the county.
Traveling from site to site in a converted, mint green school bus, UGA Extension personnel meet with families and seniors across the county and offer them farm-fresh produce at market prices.
“There are plenty of kids in this neighborhood who don’t know what fruit looks like unless it comes out of a can,” said Antwoine Dunams, a frequent shopper at the DeKalb Mobile Farmers Market stop at the Austin Community Development Center on Austin Drive in Decatur, Georgia. “This a great asset for the families here.”
The concept for the DeKalb Mobile Farmers Market is based loosely on UGA Extension’s success with the Fulton Fresh Mobile Market. That mobile market delivers fresh produce to underserved communities, along with a healthy dose of nutrition information. In that grant-funded program, participants receive bags of produce in exchange for attending nutrition classes.
In contrast, the DeKalb Mobile Farmers Market offers shoppers market-priced produce with weekly suggestions on healthy meal preparation.
As of the end of September, 1,600 shoppers brought home more than 9,800 pounds of fresh produce from the market. It’s especially popular with seniors and people who pass the market on their way to and from work.
This year’s successful market season is due to the cooperative nature of the project, said Jessica Hill, UGA Extension’s county coordinator for DeKalb County.
A team at DeKalb County Public Works’ Fleet Maintenance Department retrofitted the mobile market bus, a hand-me-down from the DeKalb County Sherriff’s Department. A bus driver for the county’s Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs Department 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, 4-H agents and family and consumer science agents—take turns to keep the mobile market rolling while maintaining their usual workloads, said Kelly Townsend, a 2015 student intern and the assistant market manager under the direction of Lynwood Blackmon, market manager.
Blackmon works to source almost all of the market’s produce from Georgia, but if that’s not possible, he makes sure that it is grown in the southeastern United States. This year’s market would not have been possible without the help of Sunbelt Produce at the Atlanta State Farmers Market.
“What we set out to do is increase people’s access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and we’ve accomplished that,” Townsend said. “People have told us that they’ve eaten more fruits and vegetables this summer because we were here, and that makes this a success.”
The DeKalb Mobile Farmers Market was paid for by a Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) project grant from the CDC, with a goal of reducing health disparities in certain communities. The mobile market will make its last run the week of Oct. 19-23. Those wanting to make one last shopping trip this season should visit dekalbcountyga.gov/mobilemarket/ .
UGA Extension in DeKalb County, the Dekalb County Board of Health and the CDC will host a fall festival to close out the season from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 29, at the DeKalb County Extension office, located at 4380 Memorial Drive in Decatur, Georgia. The public is invited to help celebrate their success with food, games and half-price produce.
For more information about how UGA Extension impacts communities across Georgia, visit extension.uga.edu.