In an effort to ease the ill effects of “food deserts” in the greater Baltimore area, farmers' markets in North Baltimore and elsewhere are joining in a program to increase the availability of fresh foods to low-income residents.
The latest to join in is the North Baltimore farmers' market Go Life/Cylburn, which operates in a newly renovated area at the Cylburn Arboretum near Mount Washington, said Cathy Demeroto of an advocacy group called Maryland Hunger Solutions.
The Go Life/Cylburn market joins another local farmers' market in Waverly on 32nd Streeet in accepting debit cards issued to low-income residents as part of the Food Supplement Program (FSP), Demeroto said.
The program provides the equipment needed and other support so that shoppers can use electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards at the farmers' markets. It also promotes the markets to recipients of the EBT cards, stressing the health and nutritional value of local fresh foods.
Demoroto explained that Maryland Hunger Solutions is engaged in a variety of efforts to ease the difficulties created by “food deserts” in communities across the state.
These deserts are so named because conventional grocery stores have withdrawn services in these areas as poverty, crime, or other factors, have made food retailing unprofitable, she said.
Demeroto commented that food deserts are an issue worthy of serious national attention and have been highlighted by First Lady Michelle Obama on a number of occasions.
The two North Baltimore markets are participating in a program first initiated last year, according to Demeroto.
Three markets in Baltimore City, including the Waverly market, began offering the FSP benefit in the 2010 summer season, and four more markets have been added this year, she said.
In addition to the Go Life/Cylburn location, other new participants in the program are the farmers markets at the West Baltimore MARC station and at the Baltimore County markets in Catonsville and Kenilworth.
Other markets that began participation in the program last year and are continuing this year are at Park Heights Community Center in Pimlico and in Highlandtown.
Detailed information on the location and hours of operation at these markets, and others across the state, are available on line at this link.
More detailed information on assistance to low-income residents wishing to use the farmers' markets is available on line by clicking here.
Go Life/Cylburn market manager Paula Fitzgerald said that participation should help the market boost the number of customers, and thus make it more attractive to potential vendors.
“When you have a lower number of buyers at the market, it makes it less attractive to the vendors” of the locally produced foodstuffs, she said.
“The more people that come, the more attractive it is to vendors, so it is a cycle that feeds on itself,” Fitzgerald said.
Maryland Hunger Solutions estimates that the program resulted in sales worth $13,000 last year. Sales will be significantly higher this year, Demeroto predicted.