Spring Harvest

A new grant helps Forsyth Farmers’ Market share the bounty

Photography courtesy of Forsyth Farmers’ Market

 FRESH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES do more than just boost overall health and combat a range of chronic diseases. In Savannah, they’re the catalyst for a healthier community, through a network of farmers, educators and clinicians.

For the past decade, the Forsyth Farmers’ Market has been an integral part of the effort to keep Savannahians healthy by promot­ing local produce. The market recently received a big boost to its mission thanks to a $455,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Forsyth Farmers’ Market was one of only eight programs across the country to receive such funding — and this spring, it’s using the grant to launch a holistic initiative called 912 Food Farmacy.

912 Food Farmacy aims to strengthen healthy eating habits among low-income, high-risk populations participating in the

Farm Truck 912 stops regularly at 13 locations throughout the county

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. 912 Food Farmacy will improve community health by increasing nutrition education and access to fresh produce, while also offering financial incentives for farmers and locals alike: Forsyth Farmers’ Market Executive Director Jeb Bush estimates the program will place more than $265,000 worth of healthy food incentives into the hands of participants and will benefit nearly three dozen local farmers through increased sales.

Being able to bring fresh produce into communities is vitally important to the health of the region.

—Jeb Bush EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

“Twenty-six percent of people in Chatham County are food insecure, meaning they are low-income, don’t have reliable transportation and live more than a half-mile from a grocery store,” Bush says. “Being able to bring fresh produce into communities is vitally important to the health of the region.”

The market is partnering with four area health facilities — J.C. Lewis Primary Health Care Center, St. Joseph’s/Candler St. Mary’s Health Center, Memorial Health Children’s Clinic and Chatham County Health Department — that work firsthand with underserved families and low-income patients, many of whom suffer from obesity and obesity-related chronic diseases, such as diabetes.

Each facility will offer nutrition classes for 50–70 participants, who will then receive vouchers, or “produce prescriptions,” for fresh, local produce redeemable at the Forsyth Farmers’ Market, held most Saturdays in Forsyth Park from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The vouch­ers are also redeemable through the program’s food truck, called Farm Truck 912, which stops regularly at 13 locations throughout the county.

Bush says the Savannah program received the coveted USDA grant because of its for­ward-thinking, nutrition-minded leaders. Programs like Healthy Savannah — founded by former mayor Otis Johnson in 2007 and passing notable measures like countywide smoke-free ordinances — have put the city on a path to elevate the health of all residents and bring nutrition to the forefront of civic conversation.

“Everything has kind of built upon itself and led to this,” Bush says.

912 Food Farmacy is planting the seeds for a healthier Savannah in 2020. Ultimately, it will yield a harvest that benefits us all.

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