Farmer’s markets help to increase consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables

A new Farmer’s Market was started last November in Brownsville, Texas, in an effort to make locally grown produce more available and affordable to local residents, to increase the awareness of chronic diseases associated with obesity and to educate consumers on the importance of nutrition. Certain communities in this region have twice the US national average of diabetes, which is associated with obesity. The project is the brainchild of Belinda Reininger, Dr.P.H., associate professor of behavioural sciences at the University of Texas School of Public Health.

“A significant portion of the obesity problem here is because local diets are high in carbohydrates and include very few vegetables and fruits,” said Rose Gowen, M.D., medical director of the Clinical Research Unit at the University of Texas School of Public Health and chair of the market’s board of directors. “Many of the diabetes cases are related to the problem of obesity, which is beginning in childhood and adolescence years.”

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More than 400 residents shop weekly at the Saturday market and surveys have found 80 percent of them are now eating more fruits and vegetables and 78 percent reported eating a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. Surveys also revealed that 84 percent of shoppers find the quality of the produce at the market exceeds the quality of produce offered elsewhere.

Market shoppers also have access to health screenings and on-site nutrition, obesity and diabetes information provided by the UT School of Public Health, Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and other organizations.

In common with the UK government, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, which provide vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that help maintain and improve overall health, as well as protect against chronic diseases such as diabetes. The 2000 Texas Healthy People Report revealed that only 23.4 percent of Texans were consuming five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day.  In the UK, average fruit and vegetable consumption is less than three portions per day.

Low-income families can receive US$10 in vouchers to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, which goes quite a long way at the market.

“Last week I bought four cucumbers, six grapefruits, a dozen farm eggs, fresh cilantro and dill, all for $10,” said Gowen, a long-time local resident and a driving force behind the market.

The market is in its final stage of a certification process to become a state-recognized farmer’s market. Once certified, organizers hope to allow families to use their Women, Infants and Children (WIC) card and food stamps to purchase fresh produce.  The committee also wants to provide cookery classes for attendees to learn healthier cooking options for their fresh produce.

If you would like ideas and practical tuition in how to include more fresh vegetables and fruits into your diet, why not come along to a Cooking for Health course, held throughout the year in Somerset, UK.

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