My shoulders sag under the weight of my grocery bags. Sweat drips down my back as I peer down the highway, my eyes scanning traffic for the number 17 bus. It’s five minutes late and the afternoon sun has all but melted me and my fellow bus riders into steaming puddles on the cracked sidewalk. The good news for me is that I have a car. In fact, it’s parked 1.9 miles away, right by the stop where I first boarded that great public transit stallion here in College Hill. It even starts most days! Then why am I out here dripping into my grocery bag on the side of road, you might ask? Because that’s what many College Hill residents have to do to get their groceries. You brave the fiery sun and harsh winds, and travel far to find nutritious plant matter in the arid environment that is a food desert.
Taking a moment to remind myself of the relatively luxury of my situation, I relax my shoulders and munch on a few almonds from my canvas sack. For one thing, I do own a vehicle. I am alone; no young children in need of extra hands to hold, no infant in need of shade or a bottle. I have one job with flexible hours. And despite it being low-paying, I do make enough to shop at a farmers market on a regular basis. Speaking of farmers markets, there is an oasis in this food desert. Every Thursday afternoon, the College Hill Farm Market features a dozen vendors who sell everything from greens to ground beef. Situated in the parking lot of a Presbyterian Church and only a few blocks from the heart of College Hill, the market is the neighborhood’s primary supplier of healthy, local food. Starting next month patrons will be able to use their EBT cards at the market, a big step in making those food products accessible to people living on low income.
Across the parking lot—a mere zucchini’s throw away from the farmers market—is a small food pantry and social services center called Christ’s Community where around three hundred families come every month for food assistance. The close proximity of the two well-intended food providers, both working to strengthen the community in their respective ways, suggests great potential for collaboration. Diana, the powerful force behind the College Hill Farm Market, has wanted to make her market more accessible to low-income populations for years. As you might expect, it’s generally more expensive than Kroger or the nearby Food Mart, so the economical decision is naturally to bypass the market en route to one of the big box stores.
So while we wait for the USDA to finalize the details of SNAP equipment for the market, we have been busy trying to figure out how we can give customers using SNAP more purchasing power at the farmers market. Incentive programs known as SNAP Matching Dollars programs have proven effective in cities like Detroit and New York, and even our own Findlay Market offers “SNAP Plus” which doubles the money you have to spend on SNAP eligible food items at the farmers market. With the help of College Hill’s churches we hope to raise $3,000 that will be used in the form of $10 “market money” coupons. The coupons will be distributed at Christ’s Community during food pantry hours, and can be redeemed at the College Hill farmers market with a purchase of any amount on an EBT card. Throughout the fundraising process we hope to spur a healthy dose of thought-provoking conversation among congregations about food access and encouraging more widespread support of Cincinnati’s local food producers.
The bus arrives and I enjoy a quiet ride back to my car. Round trip, the bus ride to Kroger from the heart of College hill has taken me about twenty-two minutes. Is it a grueling, impossible trip? No. The issue as I see it lies more in the fact that residents of this community are presented with food options like donuts, pizza and potato chips with much more frequency and convenience than they are with a produce section. I look forward to discovering how the College Hill Farmers Market can be transformed into a resource for the entire community.
Casey Henry is an
with the Presbyterian
Hunger Program in
She loves running,
rock climbing, and
using absurd amounts
of cilantro in her cooking.