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New farmers markets increase healthy eating options

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Vickie Sumrell shopping for produce from the A&M Farm stand in front of Five Points Plaza Saturday morning. Multiple groups are launching new initiatives to sell locally grown fresh produce in Greenville and Pitt County.

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Ginger Livingston

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Access to local and sustainably grown food is growing in Greenville with the opening of two new farmers market locations this month.

The Coalition for Healthier Eating is partnering with the city of Greenville to operate Down East Farmers Market on Saturdays at Five Points Plaza at the corner of Fifth and Evans streets. EXCEED Inc. is partnering with several local and federal organizations to operate the Third Street Farmer's Market and Access Connect Mobile Market on Saturdays at Third Street Community Gardens, 600 W. Third St.

The new markets developed in part out of concern that the county-owned Leroy James Farmers Market is out of reach for some city residents. The facility is located at 4560 County Home Road several miles from west Greenville and the downtown areas. The Leroy James market is operated by Pitt County Cooperative Extension.

"People are saying they want to consume locally produced products but they don't always have time to drive out to County Home Road," said Maxine White, executive director of the Coalition for Healthier Eating. "Many of the people who visited our market are people who are riding their bikes or who walked, including students from East Carolina University."

Transportation is an even greater issue for residents living in neighborhoods surrounding the Third Street Community Center, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated as a food desert, said C.D. Gay, executive director of EXCEED Inc., the Executive Center for Economic and Education Development.

"In the west Greenville area there are about 5,200 residents, mostly African-American residents. The issue is that population for the most part is either elderly and don't drive or those that do drive don't have adequate transportation," Gay said.

To reach the two nearest supermarkets in the community, Piggly Wiggly and Save-A-Lot, which are both located on Dickinson Avenue, people have to struggle with carrying grocery bags on buses or have to hire a taxi or a neighbor to drive them, Gay said.

The Mobile Market purchases produce from local growers and drives to locations in the community that are easily accessible to neighbors. In its inaugural season, the market will be based at the Third Street Community Center, where other growers and organizations also are selling. Gay is is in talks with groups in South Greenville and other locations so the market can set up in those neighborhoods.

"Hopefully in the spring we can have two units," Gay said. "We have the support out there."

Increasing the market's supply chain is a top priority for Gay.

"Smaller growers can't grow amounts to reach commercial markets but they can grow enough for us and folks like Maxine," he said. The more outlets growers have the more opportunity to sell their products and increase their income, Gay said.

The Coalition for Healthier Eating works with a network of 34 growers located around the state. The suppliers provide the coalition with product and the coalition sells it from a single stand.

"We can get a variety of whatever it is the consumers want," White said. A supplier based in the North Carolina mountains can provide asparagus; others are raising grass-fed meat. There also is demand for standard vegetables such as tomatoes and potatoes.

Both projects developed out of conversations White and Gay had with Tiana Keith, the city of Greenville's Neighborhood Liaison/Community Ombudsman.

Greenville City Council members on several occasions expressed a desire to have a farmers market. Surveys determined where residents wanted markets to be located and hours of operation.

"We had some significant response and interest in a farmers market in the center city area," Keith said. The success of Uptown Greenville's summertime Umbrella Market at Five Points Plaza further demonstrated the interest and support for a market.

Keith discussed with Pitt County Cooperative Extension what framework the city needed to build to support a market. She then turned to White.

"We have had some conversations with Miss White for other projects," Keith said. Since White had the supply network in place it seemed natural to partner with her organization.

"We wanted to partner with someone who was as ready as we were," Keith said.

The Down East Farmers Market opened Sept. 10, the same day as East Carolina University's home football game with North Carolina State University. Keith said she was interested to see the response given the attention Greenville pays to that football rivalry. She wasn't disappointed.

"What I found interesting is the folks who came to the market, it was their destination," she said. It was good to know people were seeking out a source of sustainably grown food, Keith said.

The Mobile Market launched Sept. 17 and 75 customers turned out, Gay said.

EXCEED is getting its produce from several local growers and Greenville Produce. The Mobile Market is not set up at this time to accept SNAP/EBT payments, Gay said.

However, the market is partnering with the Green Rural Redevelopment Co-op which accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program payments and provides a dollar-for-dollar match to be spent at the mobile market and other vendors at the Third Street location.

The result is an individual who uses $20 of the SNAP benefits will get $40 in tokens to spend at the market, Gay said.

The Down East market accepts SNAP/EBT cards along with debit and credit cards, White said.

White and Gay said they are pleased the community is supporting their respective markets and look forward to continued growth.

Gay said the Mobile Market will run through late November or early December then close for the winter months. Keith said the Down East Farmers Market is scheduled to run through mid-November, but White said the market's staff believes it could run year-round because some of its producers grow vegetables in winter.

"We want the public to drive our goals, drive demand," White said.

"I just hope the market contributes to a fun, vibrant uptown Greenville," Keith said. "A of work has gone into the center city and this is a great accent."

Contract Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570. Follow her on Twitter @GingerLGDR.

 

Farmers markets

The Third Street Farmers Market and Access Connect Mobile Market will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Third Street Community Gardens, 600 W. Third St. The Down East Farmers Market will be from 8 a.m. to noon at Five Points Plaza, Fifth and Evans streets. The Leroy James Pitt County Farmers Market is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 4560 County Home Road.

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