Shirley Burke remembers the first time she saw fennel, a few months ago.
“I remember when we got fennel — I’d never seen it — and it looks like a hand with asparagus growing out of it,” Burke said. “And it’s like, what do I do with this?”
Burke is a pastor at the Coke Memorial Methodist Church in Smoketown. Her experience with fennel was through a Fresh Stop Market, a program run by nonprofit New Roots that provides local produce on a sliding scale basis in low-income neighborhoods via popup markets.
The point is to bring fresh fruits, vegetables and meats to the city’s food deserts. Smoketown is one of those areas — and there are direct connections between improved health outcomes and access to fresh food.
“Sometimes when you are the bottom, you make do,” said Burke. “You do what you have to do to exist. You don’t think about, ‘I don’t have a car.’ You don’t think about, ‘I got to to walk seven blocks to the store.’ It’s really important for the Fresh Stop Market to be in their area, and they can get there.”
Seth Berkowitz, a doctor and researcher at Harvard University, studies how social factors affect health.
“Healthy food access is certainly gonna be a key part of people being able to follow a healthy diet, and if you don’t feed that, there will likely be health consequences from it,” he said.
That’s why a foundation tied to a health insurance company might want to invest in a program that expands access to fresh food. Now, with a $100,000 grant from the Humana Foundation, New Roots plans to expand into other communities.
The Fresh Stop at Coke Memorial has been there for two years, and Burke said she’s seen some results with repeat customers.
“People are more health conscious. I’m seeing people losing weight. People who were diabetic, were able to get off insulin and maybe on the pill, and now they’re working toward getting off the pill,” she said.
She attributes part of that to the model of the Fresh Stop, which has cooking demos for produce like that fennel that might be completely new to many people.
“This type of kale — it had red stems — and people were looking at that, ‘what is this?’ But Russian kale has that red color. Just something like that will make someone feel insecure,” Burke said. “And it’s like, I don’t know if I should eat that, because is something wrong with it? Was it a bad crop?”
More information about New Roots’ Fresh Stop Markets can be found here.