By Tina Dirmann
staff writer for BCBSLA Foundation
Who says you can’t get folks to eat their veggies?
Sure, it may seem like a task at times, with our state’s obesity rates and high blood pressure, high cholesterol numbers soaring.
But we saw no evidence of anti-veg eaters on Wednesday as we gathered under the white tents that housed northern Baton Rouge’s Red Stick Mobile Farmers Market. Instead, we saw a steady stream of mothers, fathers, neighbors, all with bags in hand, crowding the new neighborhood fresh food stand, anxious to scoop up leafy greens and bright berries for their families.
“My children love strawberries,” said Joyce Johnson, clutching a bag filled with the vibrant red berries she intended to share. She also snagged blueberries, mustard greens and kale. “I’m trying to change my diet. But the nearest Winn Dixie is about 4 miles from me. This is right here, so close to me. I don’t have to travel so far to get what I need.”
And that’s the point, said Lisa Gray, community outreach manager for the Red Stick Mobile Farmers Market program, made possible by Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grant winner Fresh Beginnings (awarded $1 million by our Foundation in 2012). This week’s mobile market opening was the first in what will become a weekly offering of farm fresh vegetables, fruits, and, in time, meats and dairy products, too.
“Many people living in this area don’t even drive or have a car,” Gray said. “So it’s hard to go a half-mile for fresh groceries, let alone 4 or 5 miles.”
Plus, Gray points out, just because produce is purchased from a nearby grocer doesn’t mean the food is coming from one of our local farmers, which is a key element for the Fresh Beginnings program — to eat fresh foods, grown by local farmers.
“At a grocery store, you can’t guarantee that food came from our farmers,” Gray said. “Plus, you can’t get food any fresher than this. This food was picked yesterday. Now that’s fresh. I know because we went to some of these farms ourselves and picked up the food!”
Other farmers delivered their produce directly to Red Stick workers. All produce is sold on consignment.
That’s enough for customer Peron McCastle, who said he considers it a priority to support the farmers in his own community.
“It’s very important to me to buy Louisiana products,” said McCastle, holding bags loaded down with turnips, cabbage and greens. “Supporting the local farmers? I like that.”
And don’t think farm fresh means “expensive.” The point is to make the produce not just accessible, but affordable. Indeed, we even did a bit of shopping… And for just $10, we walked away with a haul that included green onions, strawberries, blueberries, zucchini, green peppers and a cucumber!
For now, the mobile market will be held every Wednesday in the parking lot of the Scotlandville Library (9 a.m. — 11 a.m.) and in front of Star Hill Church (1 p.m. — 3 p.m.). But Gray says they are hoping to expand, moving the mobile market (which is literally a converted truck hauling food and a pop-up farm stand) other days of the week as soon as they find more locations to host the pop-up food truck.
As dozens turned out for the mobile market’s first showing, Gray marveled at the small crowd.
“It’s awesome,” she said, looking on at customers bustling from table to table. “We haven’t even done that much advertising yet. It’s been through local churches and community centers, the library, and we have a local radio
talk show. But mostly, we’re counting on word of mouth — for one neighbor to tell another neighbor and so on.”
Want more inside scoop? Look for recipes scattered along the tables, with delectable ways to use the day’s fresh produce. This week’s highlight was a strawberry and spinach salad recipe (2 bunches of spinach tossed with 4 cups of sliced strawberries, 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, 1/4 cup white wine vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon paprika, 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon poppy seeds). Sounds berry good to us!