Nutrition for Those in Need

December 8, 2011 by · Comments Off 


By Victoria Ahmadi

Sign showing Lone Star cards are accepted. (Photo by Victoria Ahmadi/Beyond the Bubble staff).

After a one-year battle between advocates for low-income residents and the City of Dallas, the Dallas Farmer’s Market has agreed to accept the Lone Star food stamp card, giving lower income shoppers access to fresh produce.

Fifty-four–year-old Sabrina Jones of Dallas is a struggling grandmother who receives governmental aid to provide for her four grandchildren and her 84 year-old mother. Jones works part-time doing secretarial work for an attorney so that she can juggle her time between work and family.

“Most grocery stores accept food stamps but there isn’t the same quality of produce as there is at the Dallas Farmer’s Market,” Jones said. “I’ve shopped at Betty’s Tomatoes for years, we love it down there.”

Jones receives help from CitySquare, formerly known as Central Dallas Ministries, and the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, in order to keep her family well fed and happy. She said that she is already planning their next family outing to the market to pick out some wholesome foods.

CitySquare proposed a petition last year in an effort to bring nutritional awareness and healthier selections to those receiving SNAP benefits. The new policy was announced Nov. 9 at CitySquare’s Hunger-Summit kickoff. The farmer’s market will start accepting the Lone Star Card, which is used to collect SNAP benefits, this spring.

CitySquare’s Public Policy Department undertook the petition because of its concern for the lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables for Dallas citizens on public assistance.

Rev. Gerald Britt, Jr., Vice-President of CitySquare Public Policy and Community Program Development, says that the public was very active in the petition drive.

“Because we met with initial reticence to the idea, we began the petition drive to demonstrate to the Dallas Farmers Market, the City Council and other officials at City Hall, that there was public support for such a move,” Britt said.

Petitions were signed online, in CitySquare’s food pantry, and at its Urban Engagement Book Club meetings, as well as at a screening of the documentary ‘Food Stamped’ at the Angelika Theater. All told, the group gathered about 600 signatures over the past year.

CitySquare works to address the root causes of poverty in Dallas. The organization’s Nurture, Knowledge and Nutrition (NKN) program recognizes that addressing hunger and health is the most cost-effective way to help low-income families.

Michele Kopel, Resource Center Manager of CitySquare, said that it’s a very exciting time for the non-profit organization and all of those whose efforts have finally paid off. “With the consistent public pressure and the petitioners, we were able to make this happen,” she said.

Kopel said that it was time for a change, considering that the number of Farmer’s Markets across the country that have already been accepting food stamps.

“It’s a win-win situation for the Dallas Farmer’s Market and the public because both parties are able to get things at a reduced cost and promote healthy eating habits,” Kopel said.

Efforts have paid off for those receiving SNAP benefits under the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The SNAP food benefits help people with low incomes and resources buy the food they need for good health.

SNAP benefits are given to a single person or family who meets the program’s requirements. Texas’ HHSC sends a renewal application to those receiving SNAP before the end of each benefit period.

Most benefit periods last for 6 months but some can be as short as 1 month or as long as 3 years.

Entrance to the Dallas Farmer's Market. (Photo by Victoria Ahmadi/Beyond the Bubble staff).

Until now, SNAP recipients primarily shopped for food at chain grocery stores or local food pantries that are known for their minimal selection of healthy and fresh foods.

These pantries are mostly packed with frozen foods and canned goods, making it more difficult for CitySquare to promote Nurture, Knowledge and Nutrition. “Healthy choices make a big difference,” said Kopel.

According to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, low-income households have a higher prevalence of health conditions related to poor nutrition than households with higher incomes.

Women with lower family income levels are 50 percent more likely to be obese than those with higher family incomes. Children of overweight mothers are more likely to be overweight themselves by age 6 than children of lean mothers.

While obesity rates have doubled in children and tripled in adolescents over the last two decades, they have increased the most among those in the lowest income levels, especially African American and Mexican American children.

HHSC gives SNAP benefits through the Lone Star Card, a plastic card that is used like a credit card at the cash register to pay for purchases. Each month, the family’s approved monthly SNAP amount is placed in the card’s account.

Eric Childers, a 27-year-old father of four, says that he’s never shopped at the Dallas Famer’s Market but may start now.

Childers is able to provide for his four young boys with the help of the Lone Star Card and says that finding nutritious foods is the key factor. He currently buys his groceries at the local Wal-Mart but says that the produce is nowhere near the quality of that of the farmers market.

“They shouldn’t give you a Lone Star Card to get fat,” Childers said.

Those receiving food benefits may not purchase an assortment of products including vitamins, medicines, hot foods, alcoholic beverages or foods that can be consumed inside the store.

Dallas Farmer’s Market vendor Adolf Ramirez says that he is anxiously waiting on his machine that will enable him to swipe Lone Star Cards as payment.

Ramirez is a produce dealer who is known for his selection of black-eyed peas, squash, tangerines, nuts and a variety of other produce goods.

“I think it will help business a lot, I am just excited to get my machine up and running for all of the new shoppers,” Ramirez said.

Dallas Farmer’s Market Provides Something for Everyone

April 5, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Natalie Blankenship

Most people head down to Dallas’ Farmer’s Market expecting to see buckets full of brilliantly colored fruits and vegetables while farmers offer up slices of their locally grown pineapple and cantaloupe. Who knew you could also go to the market and pick up a piece of jewelry or walk away with a mosaic mirror just shipped in from Mexico?

Located on 1010 South Pearl Expressway, the farmer’s market has an enclosed shed tucked away near the back for items other than fresh produce or plants. Inside the 26,000-square-foot, newly-remodeled building, shoppers can find just about anything: A counter stocked with silver jewelry imported from Taxco, Mexico; A store with aroma therapy candles, soaps, scrubs and body sprays; An African store with T-shirts, wood products, leather products and oils; A store selling Mexican imported mirrors, paintings and pottery; A counter selling glass products; and even a sausage company.

New vendors are appearing, but old vendors will remain selling their products. Restaurants are being built as the building moves towards hosting more food and food related vendors.

Stephanie Heard, an employee of a soap shop called Abundantly Aromatic, believes that the city is doing a lot to get more customers to the market.

“They’re doing a lot of marketing and getting a lot of new vendors our here to make it grow, so the more people out here, the better the business is,” Heard said.

The idea of enclosing part of the market and adding air conditioning and heat unit happened about three years ago. At first, vendors ranged from soap to silver. The shed is currently about three quarters full, but is growing rapidly. Food vendors and restaurants predominately fill the indoor portion, but vendors like Silver Springs Design have been there for 16 years and are here to stay, said Dallas Farmer’s Market customer service employee Liz Scoggin. Soon, the building will have a Greek restaurant, a Bar-B-Q catering company and other food venues, Scoggin said.

The Dallas Farmer’s Market opened as a city owned and operated market in 1941. It underwent a $15 million renovation in the 1990′s, which included a new resource center and the indoor shed, according to the Dallas Farmer’s Market Friends Web site. The Dallas Farmer’s Market Friends organization works to raise money for development and promotion of the Dallas Farmer’s Market, according to their Facebook page.

Owner of Silver Springs Design, Audrey McGarity has been importing and selling silver jewelry out of the Dallas Farmer’s Market with her husband Johnny McGarity for 16 years. She became interested in selling jewelry after her daughter moved to Taxco, Mexico, otherwise known as the “Silver Town,” to be a silversmith and an artist.

The McGaritys spent nearly 13 years selling silver jewelry out of an open-air shed at the market alongside the fresh produce. They had garage-type pull-down doors with no heating or air conditioning.

“It was kind of rustic in here,” McGarity said.

Some SMU students don’t realize that the farmer’s market is a quick 10 minute drive from campus. Others are unaware that items other than fruits and vegetables are sold. A Plano resident, sophomore Steven Kitt says he went when he was very young but all he remembers seeing are stands with different farmers selling their produce. Kitt was surprised when he learned that artisan items, jewelry and other items non-food related are sold at the farmer’s market.

SMU sophomore Idean Saki says he has never been to the market, but he’s heard from his classmates that it’s a great place to go to pick up cheap locally grown fruits and vegetables.

George Jackson, a sophomore attending  Richland College in Dallas, lives in an apartment building so close to the market that he can actually see it from his window. Jackson said that he goes to the farmer’s market frequently to buy his groceries and to browse the indoor shed. It’s very uncommon for college students to go to the market, Jackson said.

“No one my age goes there,” he said.

When Jackson first stumbled upon the indoor shed, he was drawn in by the local free range meat and the knife sharpeners.

“It reminded me of going to horse shows and going to the exhibits, they have all the same artisan stuff,” he said.

Because the enclosed shed is going to be mostly food related, McGarity is looking on the bright side and hoping the restaurants will bring them more customers as well.

“We’re hoping it’s going to help everybody,” McGarity said. “I think it’s going to get better.”

According to Heard, owner of Abundantly Aromatic, Renee Mitchell makes all of her products in her kitchen and in her garage. She has been at the market for about eight years, but has sold her homemade products out of her home for even longer. Her business has continued to grow with her booth at the farmer’s market, a booth in Coppell and a recent contract to have her merchandise at Central Market, Heard said.

Sometimes it’s difficult for small businesses at the market to advertise. Abundantly Aromatic has both a Web site and a page on Facebook. Not only do they have their business name online, but they also have a more efficient way to bring business in.

“Her products are just repeat customers coming back,” Heard said. “It sells itself, basically.”