The Columbia City Council passed a contract with the Columbia Farmers' Market to provide two buses stopping through west-central and central Columbia to the Columbia Farmers' Market, paid for through a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant. The USDA seeks to increase access to direct markets and prioritizes areas designated as food deserts.
COLUMBIA — There will be increased access to healthy, local foods for those living in central and west-central Columbia.
Although a bounty of restaurants lie in this area, a lack of major grocery stores combined with low-income communities makes some of these areas food deserts, according to the USDA.
"People can't use their SNAP cards at restaurants," Caroline Todd, director of the Columbia Farmers' Market, said, referring to the national food stamp program that is accepted at the market.
A $41,791 grant provided by the USDA, will enable public transportation to a major food provider with fresh foods such as produce, bread and meat – the Columbia Farmers' Market.
On Monday night, the Columbia City Council passed a contract with the Columbia Farmer's Market to provide two buses stopping through the food deserts and under-served areas to the Columbia Farmers' Market, paid for by a USDA grant.
The bus route will run from April 7 to October 27, beginning at 8:15 a.m. running on 30-minute cycles.
Normal Saturday transit doesn't begin until 10 a.m. and runs in 80-minute cycles, which is inefficient for someone trying to get to the market before most food is gone, and then home, in a timely manner, according to a press release from the Public Works Department.
The Benton-Stephens neighborhood and west-central Columbia are included on the route, as well as MU campus and downtown Columbia.
Todd thinks it is good to broaden the route to create access, "not just for the food desert but for neighborhoods with under-served populations."
Tyree Byndom is the head of the Douglass Park Neighborhood Association, which the route will pass through. He knows at least 10 people in his area that have a problem feeding themselves on a day-to-day basis. He sees this improvement in access as important because it provides another option.
"If you say the farmers market is available, transportation is available, they accept SNAP — all of the barriers are taken out," Byndom said.
He described a cultural barrier that lends lower income people to not be as inclined to go to the farmers market. A "starchatarian" is when a person eats bread, rice and noodles just to be full, without giving thought to the taste of the food, he said. Although he points out that soul food is good.
"This program is just the start to showing people how culturally you can be healthy," Byndom said, citing community and home gardens as the next step.
Todd said the program is just a part of the increased awareness of the regional food system. She plans to raise this awareness by utilizing about $25,000 of the grant money to place advertisements on two city buses, covering all three sides, which will inform people of the new public transportation to Columbia Farmers' Market.
Todd was able to secure this grant through a USDA program called Farmer's Markets Promotion Program. Only about 28 percent of the applicants received a grant that applied this year, Todd said. The main focus of the program was to address the needs of the food deserts in the bus route. The USDA and the Departments of Treasury and Health and Human Services are working to eliminate food deserts, according to the USDA’s website.
The Farmer's Market Promotion Program invited Todd to speak at a U.S. Senate briefing last week concerning the inclusion of the Farmer’s Market Promotion Program in the 2012 Farm Bill. She highlighted the Columbia Farmers' Market as a success story, emphasizing the economic viability and development of the market, including the success of a grant given by the Farmer's Market Promotion Program in 2009 that increased awareness of the SNAP program, in turn quadrupling the amount of SNAP purchases at the market per month, Todd said.
"There's a big concern in our country with obesity. People on limited income have limited choices," said Todd, explaining that at a farmer's market in season, you get a greater quantity for the price paid than at a grocery store.
"And you have more choices. In the summer at the Columbia Farmers' Market you can find 200 different tomato varieties."