Joyful Market, SE Washington, D.C. (partnered by Martha's Table and CAFB)
Food Deserts are areas where access to affordable and nutritious foods is limited. Almost one quarter of all Americans live in a food desert where supermarkets are scarce and access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and protein sources is nearly non-existent. Much of Washington, D.C. is a food desert, particularly east of the Anacostia River in Wards 7 and 8. Of no surprise, this is also where the City's rates of poverty AND obesity are the highest. Without grocery stores, residents are forced to shop at over-priced convenience stores that are overflowing with high-fat snacks, soda, alcohol and cigarettes. Fruits, vegetables, and the potential for healthy eating are as challenging to find here as water is in a desert.
Thankfully, there is an oasis in the middle of the Ward 8 food desert - The Joyful Food Market at The Early Childhood Academy, PCS. In this monthly pop-up market, sponsored by Martha's Table and the Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB), students and their families have access to fresh produce and are educated about and healthy living. (Thanks to this initiative, every elementary school in Wards 7 and 8 now has its own Joyful Market.) Here, fruit, vegetables, and non-perishable grocery items were made available for pick up. There are typical favorites such as green beans and bananas but also fruits and vegetables that are uncommon to area residents like kiwi, blood oranges, and kale.
So much for the "Food Market" part, now let me share "The Joyful" part. This market is light-hearted, fun, and full of energy. Music, smiles, and kid-friendly games welcome students and their families. You can't be hungry or sad here, this is the Joyful Market! Then meet Chef Jojo who conducts hands-on cooking demonstrations and who allowed me to assist him today by keeping a running list of young eager volunteers. Each precious face that greeted me enthusiastically spelling their name stole my heart. These children are joyful. Chef Jojo takes unfamiliar produce and turns them into delicious, easy, and nutritious meals that can be recreated at home. Green beans are snapped small, onions are cut, and curly kale and collard greens are ripped. Everything goes into a hot pan of oil and gets tossed around. Then comes some soy sauce and the juice from a blood orange (the kids love this -- an orange that isn't orange). It's all heated together and the stir fry is served for everyone to sample. Did I say delicious? I'm hooked on this new McGrath staple! Today was educational, interactive, and fun. Kids piled up on my lap to wait their turn while others ask for me to hold them high so they could see. While their tummies and minds were fed, their joyful faces filled my heart.
My Takeaways: Moms and dads everywhere want their families to have access to healthy foods. It just isn't as easy for some as it is for others to get it. Where I live, there are 3 grocery stores and one specialty food store within 1.5 miles of my house. I can buy fresh produce as easily as junk food for my family - even easier! I get the benefit of competitive pricing too since so many stores are nearby. In food deserts, however, grocery stores are few and far between. If they exist at all, prices are high and selection may be low. Convenience stores and fast-food chains are far more plentiful. It's easy for people to simply blame obesity and health-related issues on food choices but when there aren't choices, what is one to do? Thanks to these pop-up markets, school children living in the food deserts of D.C. can bring home fresh and healthy produce now and, thanks to seasoned chefs like Jojo, joyfully create a special and healthy meal!