On a sunny Saturday morning in April, floods of people come to 1701 W. Ash Street in Columbia, Missouri, in search of farm-fresh produce. With the desire to know their farmer and know their food, young and old alike are starting to look more and more in the direction of local markets.
“Over the last 15 to 20 years’ food has changed,” said Corrina Smith, executive director of the Columbia Farmers Market. “In the past, small communities thrived, and grew their own food.”
Today, there is a disconnect Smith said. A disconnect between how people think of food and how it is actually grown. Farmer’s markets around the area strive to make an impact in the lives of local farmers.
“We make an economic impact,” Smith said. “When you shop directly you keep that dollar in the community. Instead of buying produce that is picked when green.”
All of the vendors that attend the Columbia market farm their produce within 50 miles of Columbia. This helps to support the farming community of mid-Missouri and promotes fresher produce. The biggest issue for choosing the healthier alternative when it comes to food products is affordability. Chips and soda in the store are cheaper, Smith said. The Columbia market has found ways to combat this.
“We started taking SNAP[Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] benefits,” Smith said.
SNAP benefits, once known as food stamps, offer low-income families the opportunity to eat healthier produce. In past years, the market has implemented a “match” system doubling the value of SNAP benefit tokens at the market.
With a growing population, Columbia offers a solid foundation for a farmer’s market.
“At a high we’ll see 3,000 (consumers),” Smith said. On average we’ll have 2,000 to 2,500 people attend, with a thousand of them being regulars.”
With a steady rate of growth, the market is finding success in bringing healthy alternatives to Columbia. A little further to the east, Lucky’s Market is looking to make an impact as well.
“Bags for change is a huge thing we do,” said Billy Darring, Lucky’s store manager. “If a customer brings in a reusable bag, we will give them a wooden dime to donate to a charity of their choice.”
At the end of the quarter Lucky’s will double the amount raised. Lucky’s Market has also initiated a “Crates to Plates” program. Here the market receives donations from their food providers to donate to a local nonprofit organization.
“We are making a positive impact in the community,” Darring said. “We have programs set up not only to give money but to volunteer.”
Lucky’s Market carries a wide variety of all-natural produce. As of November of 2016 the USDA is still considering the area around the market, including the University of Missouri campus, a food desert.
“America has been suffering from obesity for some time now, and the food industry is not helping,” said Dane Robertson, MU health and fitness major. “We are constantly exposed to advertisements and commercials that make us want to go out and drink a soda along with eating a greasy burger.”
As a healthy alternative, places such as the Columbia Farmers Market and Lucky’s Market look to change the way food in Columbia is consumed.
The fight is at home, said Robertson.
“Choosing to stay at home and cook instead of eating out has become a rare decision,” Robertson said. “There are two main issues in the food industry. The first is, it is more convenient to eat out than to cook at home. The second issue is that, overall, healthy produce is much more expensive compared to junk foods.”