- Associated Press - Saturday, October 21, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A small circle of curious neighbors surrounded the stand overflowing with colorful vegetables in Fairfield Court. A mother inspected the sweet potatoes, while another man held up a bunch of leafy greens.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“Kale,” answered the Shalom Farms workers.

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That is exactly the interaction that community health worker Keandra Holloway and Shalom program director Analise Adams hope for.

“A good amount of people come out,” said Holloway, whose job with the Richmond City Health District places her Fairfield Court’s resource center. “But we’re still trying to get them on the ‘healthy eating’ piece right now.”

The city health district recently received a one-year grant of nearly $100,000 to fund the Grown to Go Mobile Market - which is operated by Shalom Farms - and improve access to fresh foods for those using SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program previously known as food stamps.

This is the second year of the market, Adams said, and the grant will pay for it to continue from October to September. It makes weekly visits to low-income neighborhoods with poor access to fresh produce, like Fairfield Court.

The goal of the market is to provide direct access to healthy foods, even if it’s just for a few hours a week. Fairfield Court is considered a food desert by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, meaning most of its residents are low-income and have poor access to a supermarket or large grocery store.

Holloway said the food that is readily available in Fairfield, often through corner stores or one small grocery store on Mechanicsville Turnpike, is often not fresh.

“It’s so unfair,” she said.

Holloway is a huge proponent of the Mobile Market. Before moving to Hanover County, she lived in Fairfield Court for 7 years as a single mom with three kids, just three doors down from the resource center where she now works.

She always asks residents what they need from Shalom Farms and reminds them the market is coming. She buys vegetables from the market herself, and tries to tell people who visit her about the health implications of eating well.

“I’m there to help them grow and move out of poverty,” she said.

Adams described the Mobile Market as a “pop-up farmers market.” The food is freshly picked from the organization’s 12-acre farm in Midlothian and is inexpensive, at 25 cents for a tomato or a potato, 50 cents for a squash and just $1 for kale or collards.

The food is half-off for those using EBT - a debit card that holds food stamp benefits - or SNAP to make their purchase.

“I like (the market) because it’s fast and reliable,” said Fairfield resident Paula Carter, who bought some sweet potatoes and greens that she was hoping to save for Thanksgiving.

She brought her 1-year-old daughter, Paige, a picky eater according to Carter.

Shalom Farms sets its mobile market up right in front of the resource center so visitors can also get their blood pressure checked or find help looking for a job, both of which are just two of the services Holloway offers.

Adams said the resource center workers like Holloway are vital to what the mobile market does because being able to buy healthy food is just one of the barriers people face. They need help overcoming other barriers, like how to cook fresh foods.

“It’s easy to look at the issue and name like transportation, and affordability is a huge one,” Adams said. “But then also digging in, and say if you bring the fresh produce home and your kids don’t eat it or you don’t know how to prepare it, what do you do then?”

Dasha Jackson, a 21-year-old Fairfield resident, was in the resource office to get advice from Holloway about finding a job and to learn which food banks are the best.

Holloway said that a supermarket with fresh produce at a reasonable price would mean the world to the community. It would mean fresh food is available all day, not just for a block of a few hours when residents might be working or caring for their children.

“It would mean health, it would mean fresh,” Holloway said.

“I would love it,” Jackson added.

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