Published on 09/08/11

UGA agents deliver free vegetables to Atlanta 'food deserts'

By Sharon Dowdy

University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agents in Fulton County are heading up an effort to deliver fresh produce to areas of the county considered “food deserts,” or areas with poor access to affordable, healthy food.

Using a refurbished EMS van, the agents have delivered more than five tons of fresh produce to more than 900 residents. The Fulton Fresh Mobile Farmers Market truck travels to four metro-Atlanta neighborhoods on alternating Wednesdays, stopping at the Berean Seventh Day Adventist Church in southwest Atlanta, the Shrine of the Black Madonna in the west end, the Dogwood Library in the Bankhead community and the Palmetto Senior Center in Palmetto.

Delivering food to their doorsteps

“The project started because of an initiative by the county manager of Fulton County,” said Menia Chester, UGA Extension director in Fulton County. “Extension was asked to lead the initiative and joined several county departments to help address food deserts and health disparities suffered in some of our communities.”

The produce comes from a farmer in Hiwassee. “His vegetables are exceptional!” Chester said.

In order to receive fresh produce, residents must register to participate in a nutrition class. They receive easy-to-follow recipes and other health information along with their vegetables.

Free veggies and lessons

One week, Chester taught residents how to use black-eyed peas in a healthy salad dish. The recipe accompanied information on diabetic diets. The next week, she demonstrated how to cook a heart-friendly cabbage dish.

“You don’t have to cook Southern foods high-fat and high-salt content. I teach the Fulton Fresh participants how to cook without meat,” she said. “Essentially, the program is about teaching people how to get back to basics in order to reduce the effect of chronic diseases and obesity related to unhealthy eating.”

At a recent session, residents said they liked receiving the free produce, but their favorite part of the program is the cooking demonstration and tasting the finished product.

“I have high blood pressure, and I need to learn how to cook healthy,” said Joyce Beedle of Atlanta.

“I love fresh vegetables, but I’m a new cook. So I need to learn how to prepare healthy meals. Now I can cook at home with less fear of failure,” said Ewa Omo Oba.

The mobile farmers market began June 8 and will run through Sept. 14. Chester hopes funding will be available for next summer.

For more information on UGA Extension programs in your county, call 1-800-ASK-UGA1.

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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