Frenchtown Market Focuses On Health, Economic Opportunity
TALLAHASSEE, FL – When the tents go up Saturday, a victory cheer will rise from the corner of Georgia and Macomb Streets. One man will watch the exchanges taking place under colorful canopies, and he will smile.
Jim Bellamy, president of the Frenchtown Neighborhood Improvement Association, the organization that runs the farmers market, shrugs when asked about his daily effort to build solutions for his neighborhood.
“I’m always looking toward the future,” Bellamy says. “I see what can this can be.”
The Frenchtown Heritage Marketplace represents more than a decade of work by neighborhood leaders, residents and support organizations. An extensive network has assembled to address striking health disparities by increasing availability of and access to healthy food.
“We looked around at the vacant lots and realized we could grow our own food,” says Miaisha Mitchell, executive director of the Frenchtown Revitalization Council. “Then we realized we needed a better way to get the food in people’s hands, and to help them understand why and how to eat it.”
Local findings confirm federal health statistics that show an increased risk of stroke, heart disease and obesity in communities of color. According to County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, more than 22,000 people in Leon County have limited access to healthy food. The coalition behind the Frenchtown Heritage Marketplace project believes these numbers are connected.
Mitchell is a community organizer who has been instrumental in identifying health issues and pursuing connections to solve them. She and Bellamy are members of the Childhood Obesity Prevention Education (COPE) Coalition, a diverse group formed under the Florida Blue Foundation’s “Embrace a Healthy Florida” initiative.
As the Embrace initiative draws to a close, after substantial investment in host communities, foundation representatives and local leaders are exploring ways to sustain the important work begun in resident engagement with health. The Frenchtown Heritage Marketplace emerges as a major component of that answer.
Anthony Gaudio is serving as a Community Catalyst for the Knight Creative Communities Institute (KCCI) 2013-2014 season. KCCI Catalysts have joined neighborhood organizers to help realize the vision of a permanent, destination-style marketplace in Frenchtown.
“We’re working to establish a permanent marketplace in Frenchtown,” says Gaudio, who is also president of Sustainable Tallahassee. “A consistently-occurring neighborhood farmers market is an important step in that direction.”
Opening day for the market is this Saturday, in time for Easter feasts and a return to beautiful spring weather. Visitors to the market will find local specialty produce, including six varieties of Kale and Mustard greens, live herbs and fresh eggs. Jarred delicacies like peppers, homemade jellies and honey from local bees will be available. Cooking demonstrations by Chef Shac Simmons further the market’s educational goals. Local favorites Bradley’s sausage and fresh seafood from Tropical Trader Shrimp Company will also be on hand throughout the market season.
However, the enticing display is not what makes this market unique.
“It took me two years and a few headaches, but I finally got it.” Bellamy is referring to the market’s EBT machine. “Now we can make a real difference.”
The Frenchtown Heritage Marketplace is the area’s only farmers market with centralized EBT capability, increasing food access and customer purchasing power. Wholesome Wave and Florida Organic Growers and Consumers, Inc., are sponsoring Fresh Access Bucks, an incentive program available at the Frenchtown market that doubles SNAP benefit spending for produce.
Market objectives don’t stop at food access, however. The centralized EBT capability represents a valuable opportunity for farm-to-table vendors too, providing access to millions in SNAP benefits spent in Leon County each year. Vendor EBT access extends the micro-enterprise prospects available to Frenchtown residents as well.
City of Tallahassee and Leon County Sustainability departments, and the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) have been supportive of project efforts. The agency’s board members and staff give generously of their time to reach a development solution that meets the community’s health and enterprise objectives.
“I am pleased to work as part of the Community Redevelopment Agency to support initiatives such as the opening of the Frenchtown Heritage Marketplace,” said Mayor John Marks, who serves as Chair of the CRA Board. “Ensuring that our residents have access to healthy and affordable food is one of our community’s highest priorities.”
Opening day will be a party, and Bellamy will be smiling. Not only because the morning sounds like commerce and looks like a parade, but because this is the spark. The hard work is ready for reaping, and he sees the future. His community is coming to life.
Michelle Gomez is a KCCI Catalyst serving as a member of the Frenchtown Heritage Marketplace Action Team. The market is open from 9am-1pm on Saturdays, April 19 – October 18, at the southeast corner of Georgia and Macomb Streets. Tax-deductible donations can be made through the Frenchtown Neighborhood Improvement Association. Project developments can be followed at FrenchtownHeritage.org and www.facebook.com/TallyFrenchtownMarket.