University Farmers Market Takes on Downtown ‘Food Desert’

University Farmers Market Takes on ‘Food Desert’Working to provide healthier food options, the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), in partnership with UMB, opened its annual farmers market in May for faculty, staff, patients, visitors, students, and the Baltimore community.

Denise Choiniere, MS, RN, cardiac care unit nurse and sustainability manager for UMMC, calls downtown Baltimore, where UMMC and UMB are located, a "food desert." Simply put, a food desert is a poverty-stricken area where residents have little or no opportunity to buy fresh produce. A farmers market is a way in which to begin combating this problem.

Choiniere, who played a key role in the creation of the University Farmers Market, says, "The [University] market provides an opportunity for the local community to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables." In an effort to make fresh produce more accessible, the market accepts WIC and senior coupons.

Shoppers also can purchase a share of a farmer's crop through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). CSA participants buy a share at the beginning of the season and pick up fresh vegetables and fruits weekly at the market. This not only helps with a farmer's cash flow early in the season, but it also gives participants a chance to consistently eat fresh, local foods.

By purchasing food at the market, Choiniere says, people have a chance to pick food at its peak ripeness, which offers more nutritional benefits and requires less packaging. The nutritional value also stems from farmers' environmentally friendly practices. Farmers practice sustainable agricultural—they offer products with fewer pesticides and no growth hormones or antibiotics, and raise farm animals in pastures.

By supporting the market, visitors can reduce the "food miles" of the foods they buy. "Food miles" refers to the distance food travels from farm to plate. The decrease in distance reduces fuel consumption, greenhouse gases, air pollution, and the likelihood of disease.

Running through November, the farmers market is held every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the University Park Plaza across from UMMC's main entrance. The market offers locally grown products such as fruits, vegetables, eggs, poultry, seafood, meat, herbs, and flowers. With its growing success, the market now hosts 13 vendors including Winspear Farms, multiple-ribbon winner at the Maryland State Fair in 2010 for white sweet corn, watermelon, and yellow wax beans. Back by popular demand, Gary's Savory Sauces offers his signature turkey burgers.

The University Farmers Market is part of UMMC's "Go Green" initiative, which was started by Choiniere in 2007. Choiniere encourages people to get out there and support local farmers and local "green" initiatives.

— Tracy Gnadinger

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