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January 27, 2013

YOUR GREEN VALLEY: Mobile markets would increase availability of healthy food choices

TERRE HAUTE — In the 1930s, Parke County resident Marjorie Hays remembers every little town had a grocery store. Even though there were a lot more grocery stores then, some people didn’t have easy access to them because automobiles were a luxury during the Depression. To provide food to those without easy access, some grocery stores had a mobile store.

“It was just like a mobile grocery store, they carried flour, sugar, fresh produce and meat in the ice box,” Hays said.

Eighty something years later, mobile grocery trucks are making a comeback and in a big way.

Mobile Grocery Trucks

In the later part of 2011, the United Way of the Wabash Valley unleashed a community health initiative. Part of its plan is to focus on obesity; Indiana tied with South Carolina for the eighth highest with obesity in the United States in 2011, according to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study. From the initiative came the idea of a mobile market.

“When you look at mobile markets, what we were looking at doing is providing low-income neighborhoods access to fresh, healthy food and that would include fresh fruits, vegetables and meats,” said Community Health Initiative Co-Chair Joni Wise.

Wise says a mobile market will try to bring healthy foods into those areas that are identified as a “food desert.” A food desert is a district in an urban or rural setting with little or no access to large grocery stores that offer fresh and affordable foods needed to maintain a healthy diet. Instead of such stores, these districts often contain many fast food restaurants and convenience stores.

“Our goal will be to increase the intake of fruits and vegetables as well as encourage other healthy diet decisions. By increasing the availability of those options we hopefully will decrease the incidents of chronic conditions,” Wise said.

Healthier foods, healthier lives

Eighty-seven-year-old Hays strongly believes in staying healthy. She credits her healthy diet and active lifestyle for being alive today. She says if any type of illness hits you and you’re healthy, you are more able to survive.

“I learned from experience because I was healthy when I had cancer hit. I came through it, it didn’t knock me down. When I was at Mayo Clinic, I was the oldest person, who was 82 years old. The only reason they did the surgery was because I was healthy. If I was unhealthy, they would have sent me home. I probably wouldn’t be here today,” Hays said.

According to America’s Health Ratings, Americans are living longer, with fewer deaths from heart disease and cancer, but are living with chronic illnesses associated with the troubling elevated levels of obesity.

“People may be living longer, but they aren’t necessarily living healthier. And that is sad. I think even the obese people are getting frightened. I think they are willing, and their families are willing, to make changes,” Hays said.

Hays is a vigorous lady. In her playbook are a few more things she would like to help get done:

• Start a mobile market in Parke County.

• Start after-school programs to teach kids how to make healthy snacks. She says the way to the parents is through their children.

• Work with community centers and churches to provide healthy prepared meals that families can order and pick up for a quick dinner.

• Encourage restaurants and convenience stores to offer healthier items.

• Teach families that a little preparation of meals can save money and time.

“At all times in my freezer, I have soups. If I have somebody come over, all I have to do is pull it out and thaw it. If you take a family to a fast food place, you could spend $40 on a meal. I can make many bigger, healthier meals for a lot less. Plus they don’t have all of the fat content of a Whopper,” Hays said.

If the mobile market idea comes to fruition, organizers will have the potential to work with a national wholesale distributor who would distribute locally, and provide the food at a lower cost, so it can be sold at a lower cost. The idea of teaming up with local farmers has not been crossed out, either.

“That is something that has been discussed as the idea has evolved. We are trying to keep it as local as possible, and that is one of the lessons learned through having IU Health ‘Garden on the Go’ facilitators tell us what has worked and what could be done better,” Wise said.

Over the next month, students in the Health and Human Services at Indiana State University will go out and implement surveys to see if there is an interest in a mobile market. The analysis of the surveys is slated for completion by March 1.

Jane Santucci is an environmental freelance writer for the Tribune-Star. Santucci is a proud volunteer with TREES Inc. and Our Green Valley. She also sits on the Wabash Valley Goodwill Industries Board of Directors. Share your environmental stories and tips with her at JaneSantucci@yourgreenvalley.com.

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