There is a variety of reasons why Allen County residents don't eat enough fresh produce. Hopefully, it won't be long before we can remove access from that list.
There are some startling statistics out there to illustrate how poorly some of us eat. None are more troubling than a recent survey in which 63 percent of Allen County adults said they had not eaten a vegetable in the past week. For some, that's a matter of choice — a bad choice, but a choice nevertheless. But for others, there are very real barriers keeping them from making the healthy choice for them and their family.
In Allen County, more than 18,000 people live in areas the U.S. Department of Agriculture call Food Deserts. That means many of the residents in those areas do not have access to fresh, affordable produce. In many cases, they lack transportation to a store. In others, it's a money matter.
In either case, the Mobile Produce Market rolls over those barriers by bringing the food to the places that need it most. The Market — a retrofitted RTA bus — is stocked with a variety of fresh produce and makes stops all over town where residents can get on the bus and buy regional, seasonal produce at well below grocery store costs.
Since being unveiled in September, the Mobile Produce Market has been a great success. The market served 1,800 people in its first 26 days of operation. In the month of December alone, community members purchased 1,759 pounds of fresh produce at an affordable price.
The West Ohio Food Bank, which manages the market, will soon be adding a new location and stopping at St. Rita's on Tuesdays. More details will soon be available on the Food Bank's web site, www.westohiofoodbank.org. They currently make stops in five out of the seven areas designated as food deserts and are planning on adding two more in the near future to provide access to fresh produce in areas where the community's access to them is limited.
The market carries more than 20 items a month, from potatoes to greens, onions, peppers and more. They also offer recipes, giving the customers some fresh ideas on how to use the produce.
Just as transportation can be a barrier to eating well, so can information. Too many of us grew up in families with limited produce options. If the only vegetables you saw growing up were potatoes and peas, chances are giving you an eggplant is going to cause some confusion.
In December, the Activate Allen County office teamed up with the West Ohio Food Bank to present a Seal Christmas Event at the Lima Allen Council on Community Affairs. The program provided parents of LACCA students with fresh produce to make healthy holiday slow cooker meals. Activate Allen County's Project Director Cheri Mitchel created three healthy meals and gave the parents an opportunity to taste test what they could make. The Mobile Produce Market provided boxes of all produce items (funded by LACCA) needed for each recipe.
Similar programs are being presented all over the county, but still more are needed. If you would like to help out, or are looking for other ways you can support the effort to make the healthy choice the easy choice for Allen County residents, go to www.activateallencounty.com.