MIAMI — Due to lack of access to fresh foods and vegetables, the option of healthy eating choices often is not afforded to residents of urban communities. To help such residents grow and purchase local produce, the Urban Oasis Project and Belafonte Tacolcy Center, in partnership with Urban Greenworks, have mobilized efforts to bring farmers markets to the Liberty City and Brownsville community.
O.A.P., a non-profit, volunteer organization started in 2010, is working with Brownsville residents to make “fresh, local food accessible to all.” While providing workshops on how garden foods can become healthy meals, the O.A.P. works with individuals to build personal and shared food gardens in underserved communities. The organization also encourages its donors and members to support local farmers while promoting organic and sustainably grown produce.
Earlier this year, O.A.P. was awarded a “Communities Putting Prevention to Work” grant by the Miami-Dade County Department of Health to place a farmers market at the Jessie Trice Community Health Center, on the corner of Northwest 22nd Avenue and 54th Street, to provide fresh foods to Brownsville families.
Melissa Contreras, O.A.P. president, said the ability of her organization to fill a void is rewarding. She told the South Florida Times that the relationship between O.A.P. and Jessie Trice began last year when they collaborated for the community “Greenfest,” as well as the production of another farmers market at the African Cultural Arts Center on Northwest 62nd Street and 22nd Avenue. “It’s a natural outgrowth for a health center to have a farmers market,” Contreras said.
The crops sold at the market — all from Florida, the majority coming from Miami-Dade County — include collard and mustard greens, romaine lettuce, spinach, corn, eggs, oranges and pecans.
Liberty City resident Sheila McKinney, who purchased green beans, tomatoes and green beans from the Brownsville market, said what drew her was the disappointment of “spoiled” foods and lack variety of fresh ones in some area stores.
“Access to good quality food is a problem we are having across the nation and when you look at the diseases black people have, many of them are linked to our diet and exercise,” said McKinney. “Farmers markets are a good opportunity to improve those options for residents living in the community. It’s all about preventative care.”
According to Contrares, many of the seniors that her organization serves own a bus pass, but are afraid to venture out in search of fresh foods.
“I’ve talked to some of the seniors that we’ve built gardens for who don’t know any place to buy food except for the corner stores. They have processed foods, beer and a little stand that maybe has a few oranges, apples or a banana and that’s all they’re able to get,” said Contrares. “By having the community market, we can make the healthy foods accessible to them.”
As an incentive for seniors to utilize the farmers market, many vendors have opted to align themselves with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program. This program allows low-income residents who receive Electronic Benefit Transfers, or EBT, the ability to purchase their items with their benefits and receive incentive “bonus dollars” in the form of tokens that can be used for future food purchases.
The SNAP benefit also is provided to patrons of the Belfonte Tacolcy market, managed by Urban Greenworks, on the corner of Northwest 61st Street and 9th Avenue in Liberty City.
“I come here to keep myself vital by getting the fruits and vegetables I need to keep my health going. I will be 63 in February and feel like I’m 40 again,” said Emory West, an elderly resident of Liberty City. West stated that the market also provides economic savings to the residents, especially seniors, as he spent more money at the grocery store for fewer items than he was able to purchase at Tacolcy.
“To have fresh foods right here in the community is great and I don’t have to spend the ten dollars in gas to go back and forth to the store. This is my fifth time here and I’m encouraging everybody to come out and support.” said West. “I recently saw a friend of mine who’d purchased $35 worth of items that he told me would normally cost him $50 at the supermarket. In addition to that, he paid with his EBT and they gave him tokens that he can use to get more food. Your dollar is going more than two times around, so you can’t beat that.”
The “twice for the price” mentality is one that Tacolcy hopes will to attract more patrons. Community partner Roger Horne, director of Projects and Programs for Urban Greenworks, said that although the community has been receptive, there is a need for increased awareness.
“We chose to put the market in Tacolcy because it is a predominant non-profit organization in the Liberty City community that has a big afterschool program, and when it comes to
nutritional education, the younger, the better,” said Horne. “We provide local produce such as papayas, eggplant, soy, coconuts, pineapples, peppers and yams, so if we can get the kids to start thinking healthy, it will enable us to have access to their parents.”
Horne said Urban GreenWorks has been working with the Miami City Commission on an ordinance proposed by Mayor Tomas Regalado for a two-year pilot program that would allow more farmers markets, community gardens and urban agriculture to be placed in the community.
“We want to show residents that we can keep money in the community by working with local farmers to buy and sell produce,” said Horne. “Our people have the right to make healthy decisions about the food they buy and eat.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Brownsville Farmers Market
WHERE: 5361 N.W. 22nd Ave.
WHEN: Fridays 11 a.m.-3 p.m. through April 27
WHAT: Liberty City Tacolcy Farmers Market
WHERE: 6161 N.W. 9th Ave.
WHEN: Thursdays 12 noon-5 p.m., Saturdays: 11 a.m.- 4 p.m. until May 2012
Photo: JAMES FORBES /FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES
FRESH GREENS: Pat Sargent seems pleased with her choices from the farmers market at the Jessie Trice Community Health Center. It’s only natural for a health center to have a farmers market, said Melissa Contreras, president of the Urban Oasis Project, which is promoting healthier options for residents of Miami’s Liberty City and Brownsville communities.