Fred likes to peel fresh orange carrots to share with his grandson when he drops by after school. Minnie loves to be able to cook a big pot of greens and pans of cornbread when her family comes by on Friday nights. Julio enjoys a big red apple more than a bag of chips.
But Fred, Minnie and Julio don’t get to eat the fresh produce they enjoy because they live in neighborhoods where there are no real grocery stores – just convenience stores or fast food outlets. Fred is retired and had to give up driving; Minnie has no car and Julio is only seven years old. They can’t get to a grocery store even when they have enough money to buy fresh produce. They live in a “food desert.”
A new program in Little Rock called Fresh2You Mobile Farmers’ Market may help them get the fruits and veggies they want.
Fresh2You sells locally grown produce from a bus that makes regular stops in food desert neighborhoods. Partnering with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other organizations, the City of Little Rock retrofitted a former Central Arkansas Transit bus to serve as the mobile market.
All the produce sold at Fresh2You comes from Raising Arkansas, an alliance of small-scale, mostly minority farmers in central Arkansas.
People enrolled in SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – can use their SNAP benefits at Fresh2You. They can also use their Double Up Bucks to stretch their food budget to double the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables they can buy.
Nutrition experts recommend three to five servings of vegetables a day and two to four servings of fruits. A serving is generally about a half cup. Fruits and veggies are important sources of vitamins, fiber and nutrients. Beans and peas are also good sources of plant protein. As long as you don’t fry them, veggies are generally low in calories and sodium, and high in healthy carbohydrates, making them an important part of a heart-healthy diet. A large, multi-year study found that those who ate at least seven servings of fresh fruits and veggies a day had a 42 percent lower risk of death at any age than those who ate less than one serving. Eating five to seven servings a day reduced the risk to 36 percent. Consuming even or more servings also reduced the risk of death from cancer by 25 percent.
Numerous studies have shown that lower-income people have poor health partly because they don’t eat healthy foods. Their food choices are determined not only by having less money to spend on healthy foods, but also because of where they live. If they don’t have transportation to a real grocery store and cannot walk to one, their food choices are severely limited to unhealthy choices.
A new study has found that people who grow up poor have a much harder time regulating their food intake, even when they are not hungry. The researchers were trying to find out why obesity is a greater problem among poorer populations. They found that people who have to worry about getting enough to eat will eat whatever and whenever they can. They lack enough “food security” to know when they’ll get something else to eat. Even if they’re not hungry, eating at every opportunity can mean the difference between being able to sleep and lying awake because they’re hungry. Children are taught to eat whenever any food is available, even if they’re not hungry and even if the food isn’t healthy. Those habits continue into adulthood, resulting in overweight adults.
Families who have been poor for more than one generation are less likely to have the experience and skills to cook economically and have access to a kitchen where they can prepare whole foods and fresh produce. If a child doesn’t grow up eating healthy foods, they don’t value them as part of their overall health.
Fresh2You organizers hope to eventually expand their services to all of Pulaski County.