RIVERDALE PARK – Food Smart Fresh Start, a nutrition education program operated by the University of Maryland, is helping low-income families get both information about and access to fresh fruit and vegetables.
“We wanted to provide nutrition education and information to parents so they would feel as though they can better get their kids to eat more fruits and vegetables [and] be excited about eating healthy,” Lauren Messina, a doctoral student in the School of Public Health said.
Comprised of both students and staff, Food Smart Fresh Start travels to a different farmer’s market each week. The markets they are currently visiting are the Riverdale Park and College Park markets in Prince George’s County and the Riverside market in northeast Washington, D.C.
Source: USDA. Credit: (Margot Cohen/Capital News Service)
Though nutrition education is one goal of Food Smart Fresh Start, Stephanie Grutzmacher, a School of Public Health Facutly member says it isn’t enough to tell people that eating fruits and vegetables is good for them.
“That’s something that almost everybody knows and it’s not really constructive in terms of getting people to act,” said Grutzmacher. “Instead, we’re trying to help develop the specific skills they need to [eat healthier] and to do that, you have to think of what the barriers are.” And what’s the biggest barrier? A government report indicates it’s areas with low access to a supermarket or large grocery store, also known as food deserts.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food desert locator, in Prince George’s County alone, there are a total of 121,831 people living in food deserts Census tracts, 14.6 percent of which are children 17 or younger. In D.C., about 18,000 people are currently living in food deserts, 22.3 percent of which are children.
Providing better access to fresh foods was the initial goal of the Food Smart Fresh Start program. Just over a year ago the group started working to bring more Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, card readers for SNAPP food stamps and WIC benefits to local farmer’s markets. Currently, the Riverdale Park, College Park, Riverside and, most recently, the Hyattsville market are EBT-equipped.
Moses Lahey, a Gemstone honors student at the University of Maryland, said the next step for Food Smart Fresh Start is to research methods to get people to farmer’s markets and keep them coming back.
Food Smart Fresh Start is a collaborative effort by Maryland’s School of Public Health, Cooperative Extension and Gemstone honors program.