Mobile farmers’ market takes produce to seniors

Mobile food market brings food to seniors

Common Ground is a mobile food market that brings fresh produce to location where senior citizens can easily access the food the offer. (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle)
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Common Ground is a mobile food market that brings fresh produce to location where senior citizens can easily access the food the offer. (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle)

Donna Pearson McClish never planned to run a farmers’ market, yet on a recent Wednesday she bagged up tomatoes, weighed cucumbers and handed out recipe cards for cooking arugula.

After a 45-minute stop at West Side Baptist Church, across the street from Delano’s Downtown Senior Center, McClish and her grandson packed up their van and headed to two more stops at senior living facilities.

“Our mission is to serve the senior population in and around Wichita,” McClish said. “If I were a senior in one of the senior centers, I’d have to pack up, get on the bus, carry the groceries, come back with the groceries — and it’s just a lot of trouble, lot of hassle for them. We want to make it easy for them.”

This summer is the fourth season Common Ground Producers and Growers has taken its mobile farmers’ market from senior center to senior center. The market targets food deserts, low-income areas where residents have little to no access to healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables.

The need

Wichita has 44 square miles of food deserts, according to the Health and Wellness Coalition of Wichita.

For seniors, getting to a grocery store can be especially difficult, McClish says, particularly if they don’t have transportation.

Less than half of older adults eat the recommended five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, according to a review of health studies done by researchers at the University of Michigan School of Social Work.

“It is particularly important for older adults to be aware of fruit and vegetable consumption because they tend to eat smaller quantities of food overall, which can lead to deficiency of important vitamins and minerals,” the review said.

At the Downtown Senior Center, the nearest place with some groceries is a Braum’s Ice Cream and Burger Restaurant around the corner.

The closest Dillons is nearly three miles away.

“We want to support local,” said Carolyn Earnest, director of the center. “We want local farmers’ markets.”

For Joann Riedell and other members of Orchard Park Senior Center, getting fresh vegetables is now as simple as walking out of exercise class.

“So many of the ladies don’t have access to vehicles to go to markets at the extension services,” Riedell said. “It lets them take advantage of fresh produce that’s grown locally.”

A family farm

One of McClish’s brothers had asked the question four years ago: what to do with extra produce from the family-owned Pearson Farms.

The farm has been in the family since 1968, growing green beans, beets, tomatoes, collards, mustards, turnips, squash, cabbage and more.

A series of meetings led McClish to find out that low-income seniors can receive coupons to use at farmers’ markets. For many, the coupons were going unused because it was difficult to get to a market.

So McClish decided to bring the farmers’ market to them, also solving her brother’s problem of extra produce. The market also buys produce from other growers, including community gardens and seniors who have their own gardens.

They work with the Sedgwick County Department of Aging to determine which senior centers most need the market to visit.

This season, McClish takes the market to 29 different centers, visiting each twice a month. The market serves Sedgwick, Butler and Harvey counties.

‘No one is hungry’

The market takes all forms of payment. If someone can’t afford the food, they’ll barter.

The goal is to make sure that, as their motto says, “All are fed, no one is hungry.”

While the market targets senior centers, anyone in the area can come buy produce. On one Wednesday, Anita Cave, who works in the church library, and her husband stopped by to purchase tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, onions and a bell pepper.

“You can come here and you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables,” Cave said. “It’s very convenient. I love it. Every time she comes here, I buy stuff.”

Katherine Burgess: 316-268-6400, @KathsBurgess