Produce bus delivers health

Residents receive free fresh produce during an event celebrating the launch of the county’s mobile farmers market. Photo by Travis Hudgons

An old DeKalb sheriff’s bus that was previously used to transport jail inmates has been converted into a mobile farmers market.

Robert Gordon, a fleet service superintendent for DeKalb County, said that when he was given the task to design a mobile farmers market, he thought it was a joke.

“I had never heard of such a thing,” said Gordon, who transformed the 18-year-old jail bus.

Funded by a three-year, $200,000 grant, the mobile farmers market will stop in various communities in an attempt to address “food deserts,” residential areas that are more than a mile from a source of fresh produce.

“We’re going to have the bus in those neighborhoods and make sure that we fill all the gaps in DeKalb County where they don’t have access to good produce,” said Dr. Sandra Ford, district health director for the DeKalb County Board of Health.

“When you talk about food deserts, the fact that you have to get in your car to drive to get an orange or a cucumber is unacceptable in a county like this,” Ford said. “So we’re going to bring it to you and that way you won’t have to worry about where live. Everybody in the county should have access to fruits and vegetables no matter what your ZIP Code is.”

Funding for the bus is provided to DeKalb County and DeKalb County Extension Office by the DeKalb County Board of Health through the LEAD DeKalb Program, which is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This cooperative effort is one that is delivering a key service to our residents,” said interim DeKalb County CEO Lee May.

“Twenty-three percent of our households in the county are located at least one or more mile away from fresh, healthy food,” May said. “That means a great number of our residents…live in a food desert. They don’t have the ability to access fresh and healthy food. So today, we’re bringing it to those individuals now.”

Although currently there is no schedule for the mobile farmer’s market, initial stops for the bus will include Austin Drive Community Development Center, 1989 Austin Drive, Decatur; Hairston Lake Apartments, 1023 North Hairston Road, Stone Mountain; Spring Chase II, 4947 Memorial Drive, Stone Mountain; Reach Community Development Center Inc., 6212-B Memorial Drive, Stone Mountain; Midway Recreation Center, 3181 Midway Road, Decatur; and Hamilton Recreation Center, 3263 Chapel Street, Scottdale.

The county extension service will hold community focus groups to see where the need is for other mobile farmers market stops.

“It would be great to have more of these because this one bus could be [out] all day…just trying to reach every area of DeKalb that has a gap,” Ford said.

Rick Dulin, public health advisor at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “This mobile farmers market will most certainly have a positive impact on public health by making fresh fruits and vegetables available to the people who have the least access but the greatest need.”

DeKalb County Commissioner Kathie Gannon said the produce bus is “a way to introduce people to produce and it will help folks understand that we need to have these types of facilities in our food deserts.

“We started a community garden program in our parks…a few years back,” she said. “Now we’re starting to do community gardens at schools. But we still have…pockets of DeKalb that we call food desserts. They don’t have grocery stores with fresh produce. They don’t have farmers’ markets they don’t have an opportunity to buy produce. Produce is not only healthy, obviously, but it’s cheap. It stretches your food dollars.

“It’s spreading health,” she said about the produce bus.

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