Growing Access to Fresh Fruits and Veggies in Memphis

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(Memphis) First Lady Michelle Obama's book American Grown hit store shelves Tuesday.  That got us to thinking about accessibility and affordability of fresh fruits and vegetables in the MidSouth.

A 2010 Gallup Poll ranked Memphis number one in the nation for hunger.  Too many people who can't afford their next meal, along with too much cheap and fatty food makes for a bad combination.

We bought a banana for $1.00 at a downtown convenience store.  The same fruit is around $0.50 per pound at the grocery store.  Small stores with big prices are a reality for many Memphians.  The good news is, there are growing alternatives to help with healthy eating.

"Everything from the hog on up," is what Memphis resident Shirley Jones says her family raised on their farm. It's where fruits and vegetables were plentiful, fresh and free.

"My family had, we had beans and greens and okra and all those good things like that," says Ange Rivers.

Family farms are a dying breed.  According to a new report,  Tennessee is losing them at a rate of 1300 per year. What does it mean for you?

"That reduces access, it certainly reduces affordability because you don't have as much available so that's a price issue, and the other is fresh," explains Healthy Memphis Common Table CEO Renee Frazier.

Frazier and others are working with city leaders to create financial incentives to bring more grocery stores to the urban community. "Locate in areas where we typically do not have full-scale grocery stores, we think this is very, very important."
 
Despite the lack of access Frazier says Memphis is lucky, now home to more than 15 farmer's markets, like one at the Church Health Center. It's open on Tuesday, anyone can shop, but it's mainly marketed to folks who use the health center.

"They can go to cooking class they can exercise, they can actually come out here and buy the produce they need to go home and use at home," says Esther Wills of the Church Health Center.

In its second year, the market also accepts EBT cards. There are also dozens of community gardens across the city.

"We're talking about healthy living, at the same time, it's a nice little platform for exercise, for therapy and also for education," says UT Extension Agent Christopher Cooper.
 
Nobody knows that better than Elton Watlington. At 86, he plants his own garden to donate to the food bank and helps with the community garden, "It doesn't take a green thumb."

Another program kicks off in July called the Green Machine.  It's a mobile farmer's market that will go out to up to 15 communities so residents can buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

Click here for a link to a map of farmer's markets in the MidSouth.