'Tis the Season for Fresh Produce

Teri Mueller

​Summer is now in full swing, and with it comes the flourishing of many farmers' markets and community gardens all across the country. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the United States currently has over 8,100 farmers' markets of varying sizes in operation. Their online directory provides people with an easy way to determine where nearby markets are and what produce is typically offered. Community gardens also are in season during the summer months. Because of farmers' markets and community gardens, many people are able to access fresh and healthy produce.

One may wonder, what's all the hype about farmers' markets and buying local?  There are actually numerous perks to the markets that attract a variety of different people.  One of the most frequently referenced positives is the flavor of fruits and vegetables because they are picked in season and not overly processed. Many people also like that farmers' markets support local economies and encourage community. Free samples from some vendors attract the hungry and curious, too.

Another appeal of farmers' markets is that families of different income levels are able to shop there and purchase fresh produce. As of May 2014, 2,696 markets accepted Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) benefits. Utilizing SNAP helps ease food insecurity and is a benefit to multiple parties. It brings more customers to the market, which is good for business, and helps families to eat fresh food without traveling too far. While the price of produce is often lower at supermarkets or grocery stores (at least in the Midwest according to a recent article published by Time), farmers' market advocates still stand by the importance of the markets for low-income families. Markets can increase the appeal of a variety of fruits and vegetables and provide inspiration to eat a wholesome diet.

Like farmers' markets, community gardens also increase access to fresh, healthy produce and provide a sense of community. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified many physical and mental health benefits of community gardens. Beyond the obvious increase in availability of fresh produce, gardens also beautify empty lots, encourage physical activity, revitalize neighborhoods and bring people together.

Gifts to ELCA World Hunger have helped provide many churches and organizations with Domestic Hunger Grants to start, continue, and/or enhance community garden projects. Trinity Gardens is one such project in Santa Barbara, CA. The project is run by Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church and has both a communal garden and individual garden plots. Each week, around 150-200 pounds of food from the communal garden is donated to community non-profits and community members who are in need. (Click here for more information about the project.)

Another example of an organization supported by gifts to ELCA World Hunger is the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank in Soldotna, AK. The food bank's "Hoop House and Garden" produced 1,860 pounds of produce in 2013, and they have already harvested 69 pounds of produce as of June 12, 2014. ELCA World Hunger supports an educational component of the garden that seeks to help individuals living in poverty to plant container gardens and grow their own produce. (Click here to see pictures from the Hoop House and Garden). Trinity Gardens and the Hoop House and Garden are just two examples of the over 20 garden projects supported by grants from ELCA World Hunger.

Farmers' markets and community gardens both provide communities with fresh produce and assist with neighborhood development. Taking advantage of nearby resources is beneficial to all people and is an important step towards alleviating hunger. Local initiatives like farmers' markets and community gardens help people think about where their food is coming from. They personalize the food gathering experience through providing fresh and tasty produce to individuals and families all across the country.

Teri Mueller is an intern with ELCA World Hunger.

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