Filling a need: Fort Ben Farmers Market offers fresh options in the middle of a food desert

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it has begun to affect events such as farmers markets. For people who live in food deserts, such as parts of Lawrence the markets fill a need by selling fresh food — such as the Fort Ben Farmer’s Market 2020 Relief Market.

“This year was COVID-19, and so it was weird. The health department really wanted all the farmers markets in Marion County to be basically a grab-and-go situation where people are coming and getting what they need and leaving,” Market Master Mandy Wright-Jarrett said. “They don’t want it to be portrayed as an event.”

Farmers markets, however, are deemed essential businesses because of the options they provide for access to healthy food.

“My assistant bilingual coordinator (Damaris Iraheta) came up with the idea (to include ‘relief’ in the title), which it’s a wonderful idea to refer to the market as a relief market to make it very clear to everyone that the market is not to entertain but to serve a purpose to the community during these rough times,” Wright-Jarrett said. “It’s hard. People want to go to the market and bring their dogs and their kids and do all these fun things, but unfortunately, our duty right now is to serve the public and for people to come get their food and leave.”

This also is the first Fort Ben market in which the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits are accepted.

“This is our first year for the market officially accepting SNAP benefits, so if people have food stamps, they are now referred to as SNAP,” Wright-Jarrett said. “They can come and bring their card to the market and they can purchase food with the SNAP benefits. We also have a matching program, and we have had so much support from the Marion County Health Dept. IU Health has made a big donation for a matching program for markets throughout Marion County to encourage people to buy fresh produce, so people are not only buying fresh produce, which is great and encouraging healthy eating and access to healthy foods, but on the flip side, people are spending SNAP at the market and using the matching program to support our local growers. It’s supporting everyone. It comes full circle.

“A lot of times I don’t think people realize how important these programs are. They are not only helping people who may be in need right now, but these growers are putting in enormous amounts of effort.”

The market runs from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursdays at 9230 Memorial Park Dr., Lawrence. It will continue through Oct. 1.

“Shopping in an open-air market is one of the safest ways right now to shop for food, especially for people who are high risk or elderly,” Wright-Jarrett said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to shop in a really safe way for food that they need to be healthy.”

Dogs are not permitted, and organizers recommend that only one member from the same family visit the market. For more, visit facebook.com/FortBenFarmersMarket/.

Damaris Iraheta is the market’s bilingual service coordinator.

Supporting local food growers

Fort Ben Farmers Market 2020 Relief Market master Mandy Wright-Jarrett said she would like to see a community shift to support local food growers.

“Lawrence is a food desert, and that makes it that much more important to have access to these farmers and support them in this location for people who can’t get to a grocery store, or they have to take two buses to get to a grocery,” Wright-Jarrett said. “Many people are (within) walking distance from (the market) location (9230 Memorial Park Dr., Lawrence) and they can use that as an essential place for food shopping in this season.”



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