The University of Maryland, Baltimore Community Engagement Center (CEC) is providing a source of relief for West Baltimore residents searching for fresh food options. With weekly food markets open all year long, community members as well as UMB students, faculty, and staff can sink their teeth into fresh produce and organic foods at a deep discount.
“Poppleton is a food desert as are many other neighborhoods in West Baltimore,” explains Kelly Quinn, PhD, coordinator for the CEC. “Because it’s a food desert we wanted to provide these food markets so the community has plenty of food options.”
From fresh fruits and vegetables to organic meats and eggs, there is a plethora of options available at these markets, all within walking distance of the Southwest Baltimore neighborhoods where there is limited access to healthy food.
On Mondays, the CEC hosts Produce in a Snap!, which is provided by Hungry Harvest, a local food company started by a University of Maryland alum. The company rescues produce that’s considered to be “too ugly” for grocery store shelves, and sells it at a reduced price.
Customers can buy a mixed bag full of fresh fruits and vegetables for $7, using cash, credit or debit cards, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The available fruits and vegetables change every week, so no two weeks are the same, providing the community with a wide variety of healthy choices.
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Produce in a Snap! is coordinated by Campus Compact Mid-Atlantic AmeriCorps VISTA leaders as part of their year of service at the center. VISTA leaders, whose focus is on developing and supporting anti-poverty programs, launched, coordinated, and grew the Monday food market. Former VISTA leaders for the CEC, Avery Harmon and Philip Lin, implemented the project and the CEC’s latest VISTA leader, Rajaniece Thompson, will begin in early August, picking up where they left off.
“We simply could not have implemented this market without their expertise and assistance,” notes Quinn.
Produce in a Snap! is the most popular of the three food markets available this summer. According to Quinn, between 20 and 40 shoppers stop by to pick up a bag pf produce every Monday. The market is open from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the summer and from 2:30 to 5:30 the rest of the year, providing a convenient and cost-effective way for the West Baltimore community to access fresh food.
Community members also can shop for fresh produce and organic foods on Wednesdays between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the CEC courtesy of the Baltimore Food Economy and Civic Works’ Real Food Farm. Real Food Farm sells locally grown fruits and vegetables through the summer and doubles the dollars (up to $10) for anyone using SNAP/EBT Independence cards, Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program vouchers, or WIC Fruit & Vegetable Checks.
Meanwhile, inside the CEC building, the Baltimore Food Economy is open year-round, allowing customers the chance to buy or barter for organic foods taken off the shelves of grocery stores before their expiration dates.
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Not only do these markets provide a place for easily accessible, healthy foods, they also expose the community to ingredients they may have never seen before. Dorothy “Dottie” Page, a Poppleton resident and community leader, discovered spaghetti squash after finding one in her bag at the Monday market. She had never heard of a spaghetti squash, let alone knew how to prepare one, but now the gourd is one of her favorite dinners.
“If there are fruits or vegetables you don’t know, they will tell you how to cook them and what they taste good with,” explains Page.
She is referring to the staff at the CEC who often help community members learn more about the produce they purchase and provide recipe suggestions. Thompson, the incoming VISTA leader, will expand upon this sharing of culinary knowledge at the food markets by providing CulinArt cooking demonstrations, recipe exchanges, and food sampling tables.
Founder of the Baltimore Food Economy, Ulysses Archie, believes these food markets provide a necessary service to the West Baltimore community while also bringing about a strong sense of community by uniting people on a common ground.
“Food is something all people share and all people have in common,” says Archie. “It does not matter where you came from or what economic bracket you fall under. Anyone who is interested in good food at a reasonable price is welcome here.”