Oasis in a Food Desert

Friday, August 12, 2011 - 6:44am

Bringing a Farmers Market to WIC Clients

A new farmers' market on Madison's east side is making fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables more accessible to area residents including participants in Public Health Madison and Dane County's (PHMDC) Women Infant and Nutrition (WIC) program. This program, serving 7000 pregnant women, new moms and children in Dane County provides nutrition education and monthly checks to purchase nutritious foods at local grocery stores. In addition, WIC families are encouraged to consume more fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs by being provided with additional checks each summer to purchase locally grown produce at area farmers' markets and farm stands.

The new market, located outside the public health office, at 2705 East Washington Avenue, is in an area where there are few convenient options for WIC participants to use their farmers' market checks.

A frequent problem of low income families is that they often live in areas where fresh, healthy food is not easily available. Getting to full service supermarkets requires the time and expense of a two way bus trip and the inconvenience of wrestling heavy grocery bags on the bus trip home. Foods that are available in the vicinity are often sold by fast food outlets or gas station convenience stores - not typical sources for healthy, fresh vegetables. These areas are often labeled "food deserts", and such deserts do not promote the health and well being of the local community.

"This new market stand is a win-win situation," according to WIC Nutritionist, Cheryl Levendoski. "Our clients come out of our East Washington WIC clinic with farmers market checks, and have high quality, fresh picked fruits and veggies available right outside the door that they can spend these checks on."

This new farmers market is the result of a collaborative effort between PHMDC, Hawthorne Library and the Farley Center for Peace Justice and Sustainability (a local nonprofit created in 2010 to carry on the work of Drs. Gene and Linda Farley who spent their lives and careers in the service of social justice). The Farley Center, which owns 43 acres in the Town of Springdale, provides land and teaches farming and marketing skills to "socially disadvantaged farmers" - a USDA term that includes farmers whom have been discriminated against in the past, such as women, minorities and recent immigrants.

These activities converged with WIC recently when Alan Chancellor and his wife Tina, new farmers who were part of the Center's Incubator Program and the Spring Rose Growers Cooperative, opened a farm stand just outside the East Washington Avenue WIC office. Every Wednesday by 10:00 am, Alan and Tina set up large tables to the entrance of PHMDC's office and stack them with produce harvested by several co-op members early that morning. Market Wednesdays are long full days for the Chancellors who get help manning their farm stand from their own children and from, other young people involved in the Neighborhood Intervention Program. Whether it is new potatoes, red beets or squash blossoms, the Chancellor's not only sell their produce, but also provide families with education and ideas on how to use these foods to make tasty meals for families.

"Our office shares a building with the Hawthorne Branch of the Madison Public Library in a strip mall that sees lots of traffic, and we are equally happy if others using the mall find this a convenient source of healthy food as well," said Levendoski. "We hope that this small pilot project could become a model for other WIC locations and for other communities living in a food desert."

The market operates outside of 2705 E. Washington Ave every Wednesday between 10:00 am and 6:00 pm.

For more information about WIC, see PHMDC's website at http://www.publichealthmdc.com/family/wic/.

For additional information about the Farley Center, see their website at:
http://www.farleycenter.org/

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Contacts: 
  • Jeff Golden, (608) 243-0302