Thursday, October 28

The Farmers Market on Wheels Tackles One of America’s Worst Food Deserts | Washington dc

“I like purple cabbage, ”says Matinah Muhammad as she peruses all the colorful produce available at today’s mobile farmers market. “I used to have to go anywhere just to buy some cabbage.”

She knows all this fresh food wouldn’t be near her neighborhood if it weren’t for the bright green truck that brings this seasonal market here every other week, organized by a local non-profit, the Arcadia Center.

This is the Deanwood neighborhood in the seventh district of Washington DC, the nation’s capital and a city with the highest state level of food insecurity for those over 60 in the US, according to a 2021 report published by Tails (Center for Food Research and Action).

Muhammad has been a regular in the Arcadia market since he first came to the Deanwood neighborhood about four years ago. The closest grocery store is Safeway about 1.3 miles away, making access difficult for seniors without transportation.

“People who go there take the bus or take the bus and come back,” Muhammad says of Safeway.

He stocks up on his favorite veggies every two weeks at the Arcadia Market using the Produce Plus Program run by DC Greens, another local non-profit organization.

This program is funded by the city’s public health department and matches about 4,000 participants with a farmer who then supplies them with fresh produce for 10 weeks.

Produce at Arcadia Mobile Market.  The closest grocery store in Deanwood is Safeway about 1.3 miles away, making it difficult for seniors to access without transportation.
Produce at Arcadia Mobile Market. The closest grocery store in Deanwood is Safeway about 1.3 miles away, making it difficult for seniors to access without transportation. Photograph: Héctor Emanuel / The Guardian

Aliza Wasserman, director of programs for DC Greens, says that 50% of the members of her program are seniors and that pandemic-related budget cuts meant their home deliveries jumped from roughly 500 to 200 participants.

That is why the mobile market is essential, says Muhammad: it is convenient and novel. “I like cauliflower and I get all my veggies and purple cabbage,” says Muhammad. “I can get the purple cabbage. I get a lot of carrots and I can eat them, so I have carrots all winter long. If I find something I like, I can do it because I can’t go to the supermarket. “

‘Fringe’ food stores

When the owner of the corner store in Muhammad’s neighborhood received a liquor license, he turned it into a “full-fledged liquor store,” he says, pointing across the train tracks.

“So it’s a candy store for the kids and a liquor store for the adults,” says Muhammad. “I told my grandchildren not to go in there. There’s liquor lined up on the right side and candy lined up on the left side. “

Arcadia Mobile Market was installed in the Fort Dupont neighborhood in Washington DC.
Arcadia Mobile Market was installed in the Fort Dupont neighborhood in Washington DC. Photograph: Héctor Emanuel / The Guardian

There are several corner stores in the immediate area, many of which accept federal food stamps, Snap / EBT (electronic benefit transfer), but these “fringe” stores are held accountable for what they offer to the community, according to Mira. Gallagher. She is the CEO of Mira Gallagher Research and Consulting Group, the company that popularized the phrase food dessert in 2006.

According to the consulting group, fringe food retailers may also include liquor stores and primarily sell fast food, ready-to-use, boxed, canned, or processed, all of which are generally high in salt, fat, and sugar, and have a limited content, if any, nutritional value. In a research study published by the consulting group in August 2012, they found that 88% of 520 food retailers in Washington DC are marginal or unhealthy food retailers. Corner store owners can code themselves as groceries or supermarkets, and Gallagher says the US Department of Agriculture receives no funding to ensure they comply. This neglect causes an imbalance of the food available in black and brown communities.

“What we find is that fringe stores are killing people and there is generally tension between the owners and the people in the neighborhood,” says Gallagher.

In 2020, the Food and Drug Administration reported that non-Hispanic black people account for 11.7% of national diabetes cases. For Pamela Hess, Arcadia’s CEO, it was jarring to learn that black Americans are 10 times more likely to have diabetes-related amputations than other Americans. Hess assumed that the large number of lower limb amputees buying from the mobile market were veterans until he learned that the cause was diabetes.

“In the United States, in any given year, there are about 70,000 amputations from diabetes, which can be prevented if we do something with the food we put into our bodies, the food we make cheap, and the food we make everywhere.”

But geography is not the only obstacle to access to food. In June the Food and Nutrition Service reportedNine out of 10 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Snap) participants face barriers to a healthy diet, and 61% of participants say the cost of healthy food is a barrier.

It’s a truth that Rep. Alma Adams of North Carolina, who has been working on the Act to close the food gap since 2014, has known for years. The Meals Gap Closing Act, which he recently introduced to Congress, serves to increase Snap’s core benefit by 30%.

“When I first came to Congress, I realized that there are a lot of food deserts in my district. Many people did not have access to food or did not have the means to receive food, ”says Adams. “There are more than 42 million people in Snap and many of them have never been food safe.”

People shop at Arcadia Mobile Market in the Fort Dupont neighborhood of Washington DC.
People shop at Arcadia Mobile Market in the Fort Dupont neighborhood of Washington DC. Photograph: Héctor Emanuel / The Guardian

If passed, the Meals Gap Closure Act will also remove time limits in Snap and remove the excess shelter deduction limit to include people living in high-rent areas like Washington DC and the New York City. Adams also seeks to permanently authorize the standard medical deduction in all states for seniors and disabled individuals applying for Snap benefits at a minimum of $ 140, making it easier for those with high expenses to request a higher itemized medical deduction.

Arcadia Mobile Market accepts Snap and offers the Bonus Bucks program that doubles the amount of EBT on most items. And as a result of settling in low-income, predominantly African-American areas, Arcadia Mobile Market processes 45% of Snap’s profits spent at local farmers markets in the DC area.

Cornelia Mason was shopping at a farmers market on Benning Road, but says that everything she eats, like eggs and tofu, can be found at Arcadia Mobile Market. Snap’s convenience and benefits make the mobile market affordable for Mason, whose main modes of transportation are walking and biking.

“In other places, you really pay for it,” she says. “Safeway has a good produce section, but it’s not within walking distance. Arcadia comes to my door and I get everything I need here. I don’t know how anyone in the neighborhood could eat healthy and afford it if it weren’t for these guys. “

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