Harvest hits the road through Fresh on Dek

Joelette Bembry of the DeKalb Extension Service shows fresh peppers that were for sale when the Mobile Farmers Market stopped June 8 at the Scott Candler library branch.

Joelette Bembry of the DeKalb Extension Service shows fresh peppers that were for sale when the Mobile Farmers Market stopped June 8 at the Scott Candler library branch.

Some DeKalb County residents are now shopping at community centers, county offices, libraries, churches and other unlikely places through Fresh on Dek, the DeKalb Mobile Farmers Market that visits sites around the county to make fresh produce available to residents who might otherwise have difficulty accessing it. 

“Sites apply to have us stop once or on a regular schedule,” explained Extension Service employee Joelette Bembry at the mobile market’s June 8 stop at the Scott Candler Library on Candler Road, where it stops on alternate Thursdays. “Our goal is to reach places where residents aren’t close to stores that sell fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said.

The term for such areas is “food desert,” which the U. S. Department of Agriculture defines as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.” The federal agency notes that residents in such area often do not have transportation or walkable roads and depend on convenience stores, small box stores and fast food restaurants for their meals.

Another government organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), notes that dependence on highly processed calorie-dense food such as that usually available at food outlets that are not tradition grocery stores can lead to obesity and other health problems. 

CDC provides funding for Fresh on DeK, which operates as a partnership of DeKalb County, the DeKalb County office the UGA Extension Service, Live Healthy DeKalb, and the DeKalb County Board of Health. Research supports the correlation between poor health and food insecurity, the disproportionate effect this relationship has on low-income communities and the need to address the issue of locations lacking access, according to material published by the program, which started in July 2015.

Fresh on Dek has been popular, according to Bembry, who noted that before coming to the library at noon the mobile market had sold out of some items at an earlier stop. “It looks like we’re going to run out again,” she said, eyeing the line of shoppers filling their baskets with tomatoes, onions, snap beans, collards, kale, eggplant, oranges, apples, pears, grapes and other produce. “We had cabbage this morning, but it was gone before we got here.” Shoppers at the library stop, the second stop of the day, included some who had arrived on an East Lake YMCA mini-bus.

The mobile market stops at three locations for two hours each on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and one location on Fridays. Among the locations are: Clifton Springs Health Center in Decatur, Lou Walker Senior Center in Lithonia and Redan High School in Stone Mountain.

Bembry explained that the mobile market buys produce in bulk from Your DeKalb Farmers Market and prices it to match an average of area grocery stores. “It’s good to make a profit, but it’s OK if we don’t,” she said. “We’re not trying to compete with other food sellers; we just want to make high-quality produce available. We’re here to serve the community.” 

After the vehicle arrives at its site, bins are attached to its side and filled with various types of produce. The selection is a combination of what’s available, what customers ask for and what sells well, according to Bembry. “We can’t sell everything. We get a lot of requests for watermelon, for example, but it’s too bulky for us to carry on a regular basis. We only feature it once in a while,” she said. The mobile farmers market website says the mark-up on produce is lower than at local grocery stores.

More than a fresh produce market, the Mobile Farmers Market features food demonstrations with samples and recipes. At the library parking lot, Extension Service employee Phyllis Cain prepared a skillet dish featuring the vegetable of the day—squash. “You can serve this over any kind of grain—pasta, rice, quinoa,” she said of the dish that includes ground turkey. Recipes and nutritional information were available. “We want to show people that healthy eating can also be economical,” said Cain, adding that the Extension Service offers a series of classes for people on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. 

The mobile market accepts EBT, credit cards, checks and cash. For a full schedule of stops, visit www.dekalbmobilemarket.com.

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