How this local farmers market helps make fresh produce accessible to low income residents

A local farmers market open to all, including those on limited incomes, is now open for the 2019 season.

The North Highland Farmers Market, a collaboration between MercyMed of Columbus, the University of Georgia Extension, Georgia Organics, Wholesome Wave Georgia, and local farmers, opened for the season May 1.

The market is part of the Georgia Fresh for Less program, which lets Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP) recipients double their dollars at the market.

Alysa Moore, programs manager for Wholesome Wave Georgia, said anybody who has an EBT card and is currently receiving food stamp benefits can come to the market, swipe their EBT card, and receive twice the swiped amount in tokens to spend. For example, swiping a card for $5 gets the customer $10 in tokens. The tokens can be used that day for produce or saved and used later in the season.

Moore said Wholesome Wave Georgia has partners across Georgia, ranging from small farms in Central Georgia to larger markets like the Grant Park Farmers Market in Atlanta.

“We started with four farmers markets way back in the day in 2009 and now we’ve blossomed to just under 60 partners,“ said Moore, “so there are 60 different places across the state of Georgia where people can double their food stamp dollars, and anybody can come and get fresh, healthy and local food.”

Keith Sims, a North Highland resident and market manager, said organizers hope to make healthy food more accessible. He said the North Highland community has one of the highest rates of households without a form of personal transportation.

“Many people have to use buses and that can take time out of your schedule, over an hour sometimes, so we’re just trying to bring the food into the community and make it accessible,” Sims said.

Sharayah Davis, a horticulturist with the Columbus Botanical Garden, said customers can also take comfort knowing where their food came from and who grew it.

“You have me and our volunteers, we’re the ones who grew this from seed to sale so you can put a face, a farmer, with the produce and it’s not something that’s taken weeks for you to get,” Davis said gesturing to their offerings. “We harvested this, this morning.”

Charles Fleming was at Wednesday’s market shopping for family members. He left with collards, turnips, beets, spinach, local eggs and strawberries. He said his mother, brother and himself have diabetes.

“I’m trying to get all of us to eat healthy and this is food that they grew here locally so I don’t have to worry about any kind of chemicals or anything like that in it,” Fleming said.

The North Highland Farmers Market is open through October 2019 on the first and third Wednesdays of each month from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the MercyMed parking lot, 3702 2nd Avenue. Call (706) 507-9209 for more information.

Go to www.ledger-enquirer.com for video of the market’s opening day.