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BH Farmers Market takes on food insecurity in city

Lack of access to healthy food is a huge problem in Benton Harbor. But an annual farmers market that opened for the season Wednesday is trying to bring about change.

“Benton Harbor is what is considered a food desert,” said Gillian Conrad, with the Berrien County Health Department. “There are no full-service grocery stores within the city limits of Benton Harbor.”

So the annual farmers market held at Dwight P. Mitchell City Center Park each summer is a treat and a necessity.

“The more convenient it’s going to be, I think the more outings that we’ll have,” said Tamara Welch, who visited the market for the first time on Wednesday and said it inspired her to eat healthier.

And that’s the goal.

Feeding America West Michigan says Benton Harbor has the second highest ‘food insecurity’ rate out of the 40 counties it covers.

The city’s status as a ‘food desert’ means close to 6,000 people – about 5,600 – are ‘food insecure.’

Pattijean McCahill, the organization’s development director, said it’s part of the reason Benton Harbor’s mortality rate is about twice the national average.

“People that are food insecure tend to be less healthy because they don’t have access to healthier food,” she said in a phone interview Wednesday. “If you’re constantly food insecure, you can’t address other issues such as, if you have diabetes and you’re food insecure, it’s hard to stay compliant with a diabetes-based diet.”

The Benton Harbor Farmers Market is also a way for local farmers to sell their goods in Berrien County.

“A lot of the things that are grown here [in Berrien County] are sent to larger markets, like Chicago, where there just are more people and the farmers can kind of get more for the produce that they grow,” Conrad said.

“It’s more than just making a dollar,” said Toni Hardin, whose family farm Hardin Farms has participated in the Benton Harbor market for the last few years. “It’s bringing fresh fruits and vegetables to people that don’t have access to them.”

The Benton Harbor Farmers Market is open every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. between now and the end of September at City Center Park.

In an effort to allow more people the opportunity to afford healthy food, the market accepts Michigan Bridge Cards (EBT or Snap Benefits), WIC Project Fresh and Senior Project Fresh coupons, and cash.

You can also take part in a ‘Double Up Food Bucks’ program that allows you to double the amount of your Bridge Card up to $20 while shopping at the market.

For more information, click here for the Benton Harbor Farmers Market Facebook page. 

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