- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems
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.