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North Highland Pop-Up Farmers Market provides healthy food in ‘desert’

New farmers market hopes to change neighborhood from food desert into food oasis

A new farmers market started Wednesday afternoon at MercyMed of Columbus. The North Highland Pop-Up Farmers Market offered clients of MercyMed and residents of the surrounding neighborhoods a convenient way to shop for fresh, nutritious food. Loca
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A new farmers market started Wednesday afternoon at MercyMed of Columbus. The North Highland Pop-Up Farmers Market offered clients of MercyMed and residents of the surrounding neighborhoods a convenient way to shop for fresh, nutritious food. Loca

Customer Charles Fleming liked what he saw at the North Highland Pop-Up Farmers Market but said something was missing.

“This is great. The vegetables are so fresh,” said Fleming, as he perused the produce Nov. 15. “I just wish there was some fruit.”

Well, maybe next time.

A similar market will be held in the same location behind MercyMed on Second Avenue in Columbus from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 29.

Market manager Jenn Collins said she hopes there will be several more beginning in the spring.

The event, offering a variety of healthy food items to people at a low price, was put on by Columbus residents who met through the Georgia Organics Food Oasis Program along with MercyMed and the UGA Extension.

Georgia Organics is a member supported, nonprofit organization connecting organic food from Georgia farms to families with the belief that food should be community-based, not commodity-based. Georgia Organics is devoted to promoting sustainable foods and local farms in the state.

Georgia Food Oasis seeks to connect and empower Georgians to healthier ways to eat, cook and grow local, fresh food through access, events and education.

One way of getting healthy food to people is the creation of community gardens.

Earlier this year, Collins and her husband, Brad Barnes, led the effort in getting the Bibb City Orchard started and community members have worked to create the space providing free fresh fruit such as persimmons, blackberries and figs for the neighborhood.

MercyMed, a faith-based charitable medical clinic, the mission of which is to be the medical home for the uninsured and underserved of the community, also began a garden this year growing a variety of vegetables such as kale, lettuce and squash.

“Food is medicine,” said Meghan Brooks, a physician assistant at MercyMed. “We see a lot of patients with health problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes, the result of a poor diet.”

The area where MercyMed is located would be considered a “food desert,” an area with low-income residents who have limited access to affordable and nutritious food.

“Many people don’t have the transportation to get to the market so they buy their food at the gas station,” said Brooks. “I have heard the fried chicken is good but there is not a lot of healthy food there.”

At the North Highland Pop Up Market there were representatives from several area farms such as Elijah’s Farm, Jenny Jack Sun Farm and Little Bit Farm.

“This is a good way to get people thinking about eating healthy and getting good food to people who might not be getting it,” said Sharayah Davis, who manages Elijah’s Farm, an urban farm on one-third of an acre near Cascade Hills Church in Columbus. “Education is also important. People need to learn how to cook the food in the healthiest way.”

Davis said her farm also gives away food to the needy.

Providing education is the role of UGA Extension.

Two master gardeners, Carolyn Reynolds and Tina Armistead, stood behind a UGA Extension table, giving out ingredients and recipes for sweet potato chili.

Other recipes were available.

“We are encouraging residents to eat healthy and educating them,” Reynolds said.

“Everything is organic,” Armistead said.

They are glad to see community gardens showing up around town.

“Community gardens and markets like this are a good way to get healthy food to the people,” Reynolds said. “It is important.”

Larry Gierer: 706-571-8581, @lagierer

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