The East Hattiesburg Fresh Food on the Block Project established The East Jerusalem Farmer’s Market in the low wealth community of East Jerusalem in Hattiesburg Mississippi. The Market was held every Saturday morning from June through the middle of November. Three public events in the park were also coordinated along with the market. These were opportunities for residents to receive free blood pressure checks, healthy recipes and for youth to exercise in a water jumper.
The Market not only provided locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables but also increased nutrition knowledge in this same community through information outreach and community events partnering with The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, The City of Hattiesburg, local nonprofit community organizations, churches, youth groups, the University of Southern Mississippi, and Mississippi State Extension Services.
Because food choices that people make are limited by the foods that are available and convenient, people need access to healthy foods and nutrition information in order to improve their eating habits and make informed nutritional decisions. Providing a farmer’s market in the centrally located city park in the community allowed accessibility. Bringing the growers to the community was an essential element of the plan. Over 80% of the community members have little or no access to transportation and, only during “check” time, have the money to pay a neighbor for transportation. Meeting growers and establishing rapport are also factors in developing healthier lifestyles and understanding the connections between local production and local consumption.
The community of East Jerusalem was targeted both because of its poverty level (78.8% below poverty) and its classification as one step even further removed from the classic “food desert” as defined by (Gallagher, 2009, USDA report, 2009). The community lacked access not only to healthy foods but even to fast food restaurants. Neighborhood assessments revealed one convenience store associated with a gas station where the majority of items were highly processed high sugar, fat and salt items with an abundance of alcoholic beverages and tobacco products.
Access to healthy foods, combined with nutrition information and community involvement around health and healthy eating, are critical if there is to be a commitment to reducing obesity and chronic diseases, especially diabetes and high blood pressure.
Literature cited: The Food Desert, Chicago Magazine, July 2009, http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/July-2009/The-Food-Desert/
Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food-Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences: Report to Congress, Michelle Ver Ploeg et al., June, 2009, http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/ap/ap036/
The objectives of the grant included:
1. Creating a new East Jerusalem Farmer’s Market in the East Jerusalem low wealth community of Hattiesburg, MS;
2. Increase the nutritional knowledge of these same community residents through the Market and community meetings involving Ms State Extension, Southeast Rural Health and University of Southern Mississippi;
3. Build collaborative efforts involving at least four local farmers, Mississippi State Extension Services, City of Hattiesburg, Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce and University of Southern Miss;
4. Support the use of EBT at the Market;
5. Build a local infrastructure to support the local food/local grower connection; and
6. Expand media coverage.
• Surveyed the communities, using Pinebelt Association staff, the Neighborhood Associations and local churches, as to what community members would like to see available from local growers, how they would pay for purchases and how often they would buy;
• Met with interested local growers and encouraged growers to register with the Mississippi Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (MFMNP);
• Met with MDAC and Department of Human services to set up EBT use by farmers at the Market;
• Set up best physical location in cooperation with the City of Hattiesburg;
• Encouraged consumers to purchase at the Market with the MDAC (Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce) Senior Food Stamp Vouchers and EBT;
• Offered incentives to encourage purchasing (may be commodity items that cannot be purchased with food stamps, e.g. toilet paper);
• Offered “Fun Days” at the Market to encourage community participation;
• Successfully pursued EBT transactions to be used at the Market;
• Established a registration fee for participating farmers at the Market;
• Worked with MSU Extension services on health information, healthy recipes, outreach materials;
• Distributed nutritional flyers at regular intervals;
• Worked with community youth in Oseola McCarty and Family Network to promote the Market and participate in healthy eating activities;
• Promoted the Market on the Pinebelt Association for Families website;
• Utilized Comcast cable community channel;
• Advertised on 106.2 Black Radio;
• Advertised in the Impact local paper;
• Three free local commercials were produced by WHLT-TV and run on Channel 22 throughout the day;
• Used church meetings to disseminate information; and
• Worked with MDAC to cooperate with voucher programs.
A survey of 100 residents revealed all 100 wished to see fresh foods in their communities. Within the first six months, prior to the start of the Market in June, bimonthly workshops, in partnership with Mississippi Extension and Southeast Rural Health, were presented on healthy eating and diabetes information.
The City of Hattiesburg waived the fees for the community park and this has been the site of the Market since its inception with water and electricity also being supplied free of charge.
At the Market, an average of five local farmers have set up each month and all are registered with the MDAC to take Senior Vouchers. Over $12,000 worth of vouchers were distributed by the Pinebelt Association for Families, of which 81% were utilized; of these, approximately $8,000 were spent at the East Jerusalem Market and supported the local farmers. Opening day and public events were attended by over 300 community residents. Some 175 people regularly attend the Market purchasing with both vouchers and cash. Use of the EBT card has been limited. Only three farmers as of June 1 have EBT machines and many residents are still unaware that EBT can be used at the Market. The market has also employed a manager from the community and three youth who set up and manage the market each Saturday.
The Market held three Fun Days for Fresh Food in the neighborhood park to heighten awareness around the market and healthy eating. Food offered at the event were items not typically grilled such as cabbage, pineapple and sweet potatoes—all of which were a hit. Community members attending the Market and/or the health sessions each received free tomato plants and potting soil to start their own “little gardens.”
Community residents have come to look forward to the farmer’s market and, certainly through purchases, have increased access to fresh fruit and vegetables. The ability to use Senior Nutrition vouchers has dramatically increased purchasing in healthy foods. Though the vouchers are only a onetime $28, for some residents this is close to 5% of their monthly fixed income. The community feels more optimistic as a result of the Market. Several shoppers have commented that “they have waited a long time for something to come into their neighborhood and they really enjoy and look forward to the Market.” Community residents also look forward to playing bingo in the early morn and catching up “on the latest.”
The Market has also been responsible for bringing in residents from outside the largely African American East Jerusalem neighborhood and this has added to a more “neighborly” attitude and encouraged cultural sharing.
Through connections made at the Market, several community residents have also been able to receive home safety items as well as signing on for a community visiting nursing program.
The Extension Services provided healthy living calendars and many heart friendly recipes.
The East Jerusalem Fresh Food on the Block Farmer’s Market officially opened June 2010 and was held every Saturday in June through the middle of November 2010. Some 175 people regularly purchase at the Market and in the second year we are already seeing ”regulars” and many more community youth enjoying the activities.
The Market was originally scheduled to close the first week of August 2010 but popular demand requested the market stay open to November to sell greens and sweet potatoes. Over $8,000 worth of vouchers were utilized at the Market and the EBT card was taken in June of 2011—the first time EBT machines were distributed to farmers FREE of charge through a grant from the Department of Human Services in cooperation with the MDAC.
Leadership was promoted from within the community. A Market Manager and three youth managed the on-site weekly duties of the Market
Fifteen residents received free home safety kits and five other residents participated in a community nursing program continuing past the Market season.
The establishment of a market may not only increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables but may also serve as a venue to community well-being including health prevention and services information.
The ultimate goal would be to significantly support local farmers who will see enough profitability to make a farmer’s market a worthwhile effort.
The need to more heavily publicize the use of EBT at the Market and also involve WIC personnel. This year (2011) WIC vouchers were made available to families but this was not a coordinated effort with Farmer’s markets. To date, utilization of the WIC vouchers has been low which could result in cutting the subsidy.