Accessing Healthy Food in the Winter

When the weather grows colder, healthy food enthusiasts mourn the loss of their weekly farmers market excursion. There is no need to fret, however, because farmers near and far are providing nutritious, organic, and local products year round. Farmers markets are expanding to provide winter root vegetables, squashes, fruits and greens along with artisan breads, meats, and cheeses even during the coldest months.

Early January marked the opening of Dorchester’s Winter Farmers Market, in a primarily low income and crime ridden incorporated neighborhood of Boston. Access to healthy fresh produce can be difficult to obtain for many of these residents. However, this Winter Market in Codman Square accepts Electronic Benefit Transfer cards as part of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Shoppers that are part of SNAP can also participate in a city initiative called Boston Bounty bucks, which will match up to $10 worth of purchases.

Organizers of the event are hoping to eventually open a neighborhood store where residents can have year round access to farm-fresh food and will also double as a community space.

Winter farmers markets are becoming a nationwide trend. Portland, OR just expanded the downtown market into the winter months with enormous success. Opening weekend boasted 2,200 visitors, and that number is expected to increase rapidly. Portland now hosts 7 year-round farmers markets in the metropolitan area. While summer fruits and vegetables are unavailable, winter hearty vegetables such as onions, beets, turnips, kale, cabbages, broccoli, rutabagas, shallots, potatoes, apples and pears were in abundance. Eggs, meats, sausages, honey, breads and pies were also available.

While providing access to fresh food is of equal importance in all communities, there are greater difficulties supplying high quality produce in “food deserts” during winter months. “Garden on the Go”, a mobile grocery store program, which began in May of 2011, has received astounding success in Marion County, Indiana. Indiana University Health and Green B.E.A.N. Delivery collaborated to pilot this program as an attempt to combat obesity and provide healthy foods in low-income communities.

Detroit, Michigan is commonly considered one of the most difficult cities for adequate access to proper nutrition. With a rapidly declining population and burgeoning social and economic problems, fresh food is extraordinarily difficult to come by, especially during the winter season. However, Detroit’s Eastern Market has gained notoriety for supplying local produce to the entire Detroit metropolitan area year-round.

The Eastern Market contains over 250 vendors from farmers in Michigan, Ohio and Ontario. The Eastern Market has been around for over 100 years, but has just recently become involved in the issue of localized food production. With the United States Department of Agriculture’s support, in 2010 the market began research to increase distribution of healthy food access throughout Detroit.

Increasing the number of year-round farmers markets is a central component to the creation of a more sustainable localized food distribution system, and this, in turn, is key to the reduction of obesity rates. Ensuring equal, convenient access to fresh food in all cities during all seasons is a central part of creating livable communities.