University City

Nonprofit helps churches host produce markets

A local nonprofit that is working to improve the health of African-American families is bring fresh produce markets to northeast Charlotte and other Mecklenburg County locations.

The Black Women's Health Network is working with the Mecklenburg County Health Department to bring the Farm to Family program to six area churches.

An important distinction between these produce stands and most others is that shoppers are able to use their benefit cards for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP.

Atherton Market and Davidson Farmers Market also accept federal Electronic Benefit Transfer cards.

"Our objective is to give families more access to fresh produce," said Denise Hairston, executive director of the Black Women's Health Network.

"Then the goal is to get them to eat more fresh produce, especially people who are at higher risk."

Hairston taught healthy lifestyle classes in Mecklenburg for about three years. The women in those classes often complained about the lack of fresh food in their neighborhood stores.

When they were able to find it, the quality often was poor.

The Farm to Family markets will serve some of those neighborhoods identified by participants in Hairston's classes.

Hairston estimates that more than 10,000 people live within walking distance of the churches that have agreed to host the markets.

In addition to walk-up traffic, Hairston hopes to win customers for the markets from within the churches.

Produce comes from Barbee Farms in Cabarrus County and Houston Farm in Huntersville.

Three weeks into the project, the markets have had mixed success. Hairston's organization is evaluating each location and plans to continue serving the busiest two or three.

The organization is considering serving the less-successful areas with a mobile produce truck, Hairston said.