The Democratic National Convention brings more to the Queen City than just celebrity fanfare and unprecedented traffic jams. As the convention sweeps through town, swishing its hips down Charlotte's crowded streets, several partnerships have been working to ensure that Mayor Anthony Foxx's legacy programs leave more behind than just the lipstick-stained wine cups of convention goers.
As part of the Healthy Children, Healthy Families initiative — to combat childhood obesity, increase access to local foods and promote a healthy lifestyle among Charlotteans — the convention host committee partnered with local organizations Friendship Gardens, the Charlotte Area Transit System and Humana to launch Friendship Gardens To Go. It's a mobile produce market inside the Charlotte Transit Center at Fourth and Trade streets.
The mobile market aims to bring healthy, fresh produce on a weekly basis to the transit hub, a central stopping point for Charlotteans who have trouble accessing healthy foods. Currently, 70,000 Charlotte residents live in food deserts — areas with an overabundance of fast foods but with limited access to foods needed to maintain a healthy diet.
Friendship Gardens To Go represents a collaborative effort that began well before the convention came to town.
“This is a project that has been waiting in the wings for some time” says Kathy Metzo, director of garden development at Friendship Gardens and treasurer of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council.
Metzo was approached by Marilyn Marks, chair of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council, in December 2011 to conduct research for the program. Collaborations continued as the DNC host committee helped make arrangements with CATS and provided volunteers to assist with survey work while UNCC students helped Metzo with the qualitative portion of her study.
The study showed that a mobile produce truck was not only needed, but wanted by populations affected by food disparities and that a good portion of those populations relied heavily on CATS for transportation.
“It was evident,” says Metzo, “that people want to make good food choices, but there are collective restrictions like time, price of food and cost of gas that make it difficult.”
Friendship Gardens To Go launched on Thursday, August 23, inside the Uptown Transit Center and will continue to set up every Thursday. Plans include eventually expanding the market to additional days and providing cooking demonstrations and educational outreach.
“The response was amazing,” Metzo says. “It was so moving to see people I talked to in February so excited about our produce.”
"By meeting the issue of food deserts head-on and creating a sustainable solution, we can have a positive, lasting impact on our residents’ well-being," Mayor Foxx said in a press release.
If only all politics could be so fruitful.
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