GREENSBORO — On Saturday morning, a handful of white tents popped up on a mowed vacant lot in the Willow Oaks neighborhood off McConnell Road.
The tents sheltered vendors of fresh produce at the Bountiful Land Food for All Farmers Market, a new weekly market serving the residents of one of the city’s food deserts, an area without a significant grocery store. The east Greensboro market is a spinoff from Bountiful’s High Point market which began operating last year.
“It’s really good educating people on the different varieties of food and how to expand their food horizon,” said Tanya DuBois, one of the vendors.
The North Carolina NAACP established the markets through its Anti-Poverty Committee.
“Those areas have no access to fresh whole foods. We are trying to fill the gap by bringing it directly to them,” said Deborah Barnes, director of the markets.
She said the markets help farmers get their produce to the people who need it most and provide community volunteer opportunities.
What people eat is key to their well-being, Barnes said.
“We understand food is chemistry. Food of the poor is usually something that causes problems down the road,” she said.
Barnes said people in low-income neighborhoods tend to rely on lots of carbs, which exacerbate underlying problems like obesity and diabetes. This puts those people, particularly African Americans, at a higher risk for complications from COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.
“It’s important to get this infusion of produce, particularly at such a critical time,” Barnes said.
The project is being done in collaboration with the Guilford Urban Farming Initiative, UNCG, and the cities of Greensboro and High Point.
“We could not have done this without the Redevelopment Commission with the city of Greensboro,” said GUFI director Paula Sieber.
Sieber said the commission voted unanimously to allow the Greensboro market to be held on city property.
The project also partnered with Operation Spring Plant, a grassroots, nonprofit organization in the eastern part of the state made up of minority and limited resource farmers such as Phillip Barker.
“This seems like a very natural relationship," he said. "We grow food, we bring it down to our food desert areas where people are in need of fresh vegetables and nutritious food.”
Barker represents four of the 10 or so farms that send their produce to the markets.
“We have growers that don’t like to sell, but they love to grow,” Barker said.
The market aims to provide an outlet for minority farmers, primarily African American and Hispanic, though it is not limited to just people of color. The relationship helps them keep their farms going.
“Our Black farmers are leaving the land because they don’t have the wherewithal to stay,” said Barker, who has farmed his family’s property in Oxford for 50 years.
DuBois, who is African American, operates Gabor Farm with her husband, Clarence, on land he inherited from his grandfather. They moved to the Rockingham County farm to retire because they liked the area. It was their first time farming.
“We didn’t exactly know what we were doing, but we did enjoy doing it,” Tanya DuBois said.
Through classes with the N.C. Agricultural Extension, lots of YouTube videos and mentoring from students at N.C. A&T, they made a go at it. Now they raise leafy greens like Swiss chard and kale, sweet banana peppers, black cherry tomatoes, field peas, corn, cantaloupes and even mushrooms.
DuBois was surprised that some of her customers don’t know a lot about fresh produce.
“I took for granted that people knew a lot of the basic vegetables and fruits and how to prepare some of them, like eggplant,” she said.
Barnes said that is because food deserts lack the kinds of grocery stores that stock fresh produce.
“You wouldn’t know to eat broccoli, you might not know to eat five kinds of squash because you’ve never been exposed to that,” she said.
Barnes said transportation is part of the problem. Many in socioeconomic-challenged neighborhoods don’t have a car. And it takes two buses just to get to a grocery store.
“If you don’t have a car then you are forced to eat all of your meals from McDonald’s and Dollar General,” Barnes said.
DuBois said she gets a lot of walk up customers. Some are hesitant because they feel they can’t afford her prices. Through education on how to prepare vegetables like zucchini, she allays fears.
“Somebody asked me, ‘What can I get from here that I can eat for two days off $10?’ and I said, ‘We can take this a little bit further. You’re going to eat for four days for $10’,” DuBois said.
Barnes said people often go hungry because they have to spend on other things, like rent. So, the market accepts SNAP and EBT food assistance.
Tara Warren was one of several dozen customers who perused what the vendors had to offer on Saturday. It was her second week of trying out the new market. Though she doesn’t live in the neighborhood, her father does.
“I grew up here, just a few streets down,” Warren said as she shopped for tomatoes, cucumbers and fruit for her and her father. “I think the market is great. I wish it had been here when I lived here.”
Barker appreciates the dual nature of the market.
“What we’re trying to do is bring farmers together and bring the community together to make sure we’re serving some of those needs,” he said.
DuBois loves getting to know her customers.
“I like it when the kids come up and ask for peaches,” she said. “It’s just really good to see that.”
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