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Market provides free fresh produce in food desert amid coronavirus

Market provides free fresh produce in food desert amid coronavirus

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Hoosiers have long struggled with food insecurity.

But with food and business closures in the wake of the new coronavirus pandemic, this reality is even more dire, especially in Brookside on Indianapolis' northeast side.

“We already live in a food desert,” said Assistant Manager of Healthy Harvest Market Dorothea Hurt. "We have some convenience stores close by in the area. But we don’t have many grocery stores in our community."

That’s why Healthy Harvest Market opened in the area four months ago.

Healthy Harvest store front (WTHR/Sarah Jones)

“We opened in December and our goal is to serve high quality foods to people living in the area,” said Erin Peckinpaugh, executive director of Healthy Harvest Market and Brandywine Creek Farms. “So they can access celery and bananas, and apples instead of ramen and mac and cheese and highly processed foods."

Peckinpaugh said whole foods and produce means better health.

“We’re identifying that processed foods can lead to diseases," she said. "So diabetes is very common because a lot of the foods have added sugars. So that’s why we want kids eating from the earth, because long term that’s going to provide them with better nutrition,"

Fifteen-year-old Trinity Hess remembers what it was like before Healthy Harvest Market opened in her area. She said she physically feels a difference after eating more whole foods.

“I feel healthier than I did before,” she said.

When the pandemic caused businesses and schools to close, Healthy Harvest Market knew they had to spring into action.

“A lot of the big food banks might provide bags of food with shelf. So they might be sending bags with highly processed meals like mac and cheese and soup. And that's great because it can set on the shelf for a long time, but what they're missing in their diet is food that's grown right here on the farms of central Indiana and that's providing a higher nutrition level,” said Peckpaugh.

That’s why Healthy Harvest Market is providing each child or adult that comes to their store with two hot meals and bag filled with fresh produce and groceries.

Hurt said having access to fresh produce isn’t just about nutrition.

“I’ve struggled with food insecurity," Hurt said. "I’m telling you the cans don’t last long. I can make more items out of fresh produce than I can out of things at the convenience store. I know if I put this apple in the oven on 350 and bake it, with a little butter, it’s going to get soft. And if I stir it up I can make apple sauce, home made for my kid."

Peckinpaugh said the demand for the free meals and groceries their offering is high. And they realize it’s not just the kids that are in need.

“A lot of these seniors have mobility issues so providing them with a bag of groceries is something that really has to be done right now,” said Peckinpaugh.

They are recruiting volunteers so they can reach more senior citizens.

So far, Peckinpaugh said they have served “well over 150” people who have either come into the store or received at-home delivery.

But the market said they want to do more than just provide nutritious food

“We definitely hope that we help them have hope," Hurt said "And feel that they are safe and secure."

If you do not have any coronavirus symptoms and are in good health and want to volunteer to deliver meals to the elderly and home-bound you can contact Healthy Harvest Market or Brandywine Creek Farms.