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Making Local Produce More Accessible  

HHC Observes Green My Plate Month By Promoting Local, Healthy Food

Alex Boudreau displays peaches that were brought into the Fresh Market from Lett-Us Produce.

The Hunger and Health Coalition believes that everyone has the right to eat healthy and have access to locally grown food.  


HHC has received donated produce from local grocery stores, Second Harvest of Northwest North Carolina and had food donated and purchased from Lett-Us Produce for some time. However, it was around 2017-18 that the nonprofit started putting more of an emphasis on obtaining locally grown healthy produce. HHC Executive Director Jenn Bass said that her predecessor Elizabeth Young was a big proponent of purchasing local food, which is why HHC started its relationship with the High Country Food Hub – the local online farmers market.  


“Every summer we make a very strong effort to get as much produce from the Food Hub as we possibly can,” Jenn said. “The folks that come to see us, they deserve the best quality food. The Food Hub definitely has that." 


According to HHC Director of Operations Anita Wilson, HHC will purchase about $500 worth of produce a week — like carrots, lettuce, garlic, peppers, bok choy, chard and cucumbers — from the High Country Food Hub during the summer months. Jenn said purchasing from the Food Hub is a way to obtain produce from as many farmers as possible through a centralized location; HHC partners with around 25 farmers through the Food Hub.

Top: Previous HHC intern Elizabeth Pugsley shows off some chard from the the High Country Food Hub. Bottom: Some kale from Full Moon Farm is on its way to a HHC client.

“It’s what people ask for the most, which I think is a good sign. It boils down to making sure that we’re providing quality food that makes them feel better,” Jenn said.  


Anita added that HHC started purchasing produce from Anthony Critcher in 2019 to provide even more fruits and vegetables. Anthony travels from Boone to Winston-Salem each week with a box truck and brings back pallets of produce such as oranges, apples, cucumbers, onions, cabbage and potatoes.  


Because produce means so much to us at HHC, community members will also see HHC staff members at the Watauga Farmers Market one Saturday a month at the Donation Station booth. This booth is shared with Hospitality House, F.A.R.M. Cafe and Casting Bread who take turns manning the Donation Station throughout the farmers market season. Staff who are at the booth solicit donations and then use those donations to purchase produce  — such as carrots, onions, peppers and kale — from the vendors at the market. At the end of the market, we also ask vendors if they'd like to donate any produce to the cause.


To give an even broader range of produce provided to clients, HHC also has its own garden beds used during the summer both on site and off site on Aho Road through a partnership with Blue Ridge Conservancy. HHC Director of Strategic Initiatives Maura McClain heads the agency’s garden efforts and said what she chooses to plant in the garden is to help supplement the produce that comes into HHC’s Fresh Market. Instead of planting produce HHC already gets deliveries of — like tomatoes and zucchini — she tries to plant produce the agency doesn’t always receive.  


This coming growing season, Maura plans to grow Appalachian staples such as okra, butter beans and sugar snap peas in addition to favorites such as greens, cucumbers and corn. Maura also plans to grow peanuts to provide a healthy snack for clients as well as tend to raspberry and blueberry bushes. In her garden planning, Maura has researched companion plants to protect these crops by using different types of flowers that would attract pollinators or attract beneficial predators that will eat the unwanted insects.   


“I really focused on what’s going to help our clients and what is helping our environment instead of working against it and looking at the ecosystem as a whole,” Maura said. “I think the more we can grow our own produce, the better quality produce our clients are going to see and taste.”  

 


Left: Anthony Critcher delivers produce to HHC once a week. Top right: Director of Strategic Initiatives Maura McClain works in the garden. Bottom right: Juan Carlos Rivera represents HHC at the Watauga Farmers Market.


HHC doesn’t just want to provide good produce, the agency also takes it a step further by offering free nutritional counseling to clients as well.  

 

As a Registered Dietician, Maura suggested folks try to include all colors of the rainbow with the fruits and vegetables they eat, saying that the


various fruit and vegetable colors each provide a variety of nutrients. Maura added that regardless of where the produce comes from, whatever fruit or vegetable you will eat is what is going to be best for you. This recommendation isn’t just based on taste, but also whatever fruits or vegetables are within your budget and accessible to you. 

 

“A lot of people get so caught up on nutrition and being perfect,” Maura said. “So don’t be so hard on yourself because you’re eating canned green beans instead of fresh green beans. The vegetable and fruit you eat is what’s going to be the best.” 


As a general recommendation for increasing fruits and vegetables, Maura suggested that community members try snacking on fruits and vegetables as they’re cooking dinner to still get them into their diet even if they’re not included in a meal. She also recommended cutting up fruits and vegetables at the start of the week to have them readily available and more convenient.  

 

Want Even More Local Food? 

 

Clients who receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits are also encouraged to take advantage of the Double Up Food Bucks program through the Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture if seeking out more ways to obtain local produce, meats and breads. BRWIA Double Up Food Bucks and Farmers Market Manager Sydney Blume explained that the program doubles federal nutrition benefits spent on local food at any of the farmers markets in Watauga County including the Watauga Farmers Market, King Street Market and the High Country Food Hub. 

 

Folks can bring their SNAP card or vouchers from the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program or WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) to the managers booth at the farmers market to receive token to spend on any of the edible products at the market or starts for a garden. Whenever a community member swipes their EBT card, BRWIA will double the amount of money swiped up to $75. For example, if someone swiped to use $20 of their benefits, BRWIA will double that to give them $40 total to use.  


BRWIA receives grant funding and donations as well as fundraises to provide the funds for Double Up Food Bucks. Sydney said that in 2023, BRWIA doubled $40,160 of federal nutrition benefits to make roughly a $80,000 impact in the community with Double Up Food Bucks.  


“I’m glad that with Double Up there’s less of a barrier for people to enjoy the farmer’s market as a community space,” Sydney said. “People want to buy high quality food. This gives an opportunity to do that with SNAP benefits, and that’s sometimes the only way that some people are able to buy local food is through the Double Up program.” 

For more information on the Double Up Food Bucks Program through the Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, visit www.brwia.org/doubleup.  

 

 

 

 

 

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It's wonderful to see organizations like the Hunger and Health Coalition prioritizing access to locally grown, healthy produce. By supporting local farmers through initiatives like the High Country Food Hub, they're not only providing nutritious food to those in need but also contributing to the sustainability of the local food system.

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