South Lansing Farmers Market helps residents fight food insecurity

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Despite being closed for the season, the South Lansing Farmers Market continues to fight against food insecurity. 

The nonprofit market, 800 W. Barnes Ave., was launched in 2007 after the Michigan Department of Agriculture deemed south Lansing as a food desert. This means for many residents a full-service grocery store is over a mile away.

“There are folks that use gas stations or convenience stores for grocery shopping, and a lot of lower-income neighborhoods were using their food assistance at those grocery store setups within a gas station, which you pay far more,” said Kathie Dunbar, executive director of the South Lansing Community Development Association, which runs the market. “You get far less quality food, high sodium, high fat, very high-processed foods and that contributes to obesity in the lower-income demographic.” 

Dunbar, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor this fall, is a member of the Lansing City Council. Her term expires at the end of the year.

The Ingham County Health Department reported high levels of obesity and chronic heart problems in the area during its behavioral risk factor survey, which occurs once every five years. The health department began funding community projects to get people healthier food. 

To help low-income residents, the farmers market accepts food assistance programs such as the Electronic Benefits Transfer, which allows a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participant to pay for food. The market also accepts other programs such as Double Up Food Bucks, which allows those on food assistance to get more assistance to spend on fresh fruits and vegetables, and Senior Project Fresh and Market Fresh, which allows older adults to receive healthier food options.

“These are all coupons or tokens that are given to folks or they have a card that the government gives them some type of money to help them with their food bills,” Dunbar said. 

The market is supplied with produce through the community garden, greenhouse and hoop houses. Additional produce is donated to local food pantries. 

From June to October, the Market is held on Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m.

Throughout the offseason, from December through May, monthly markets occur on the first Saturday of the month. Dunbar said the current location of the South Lansing Community Development Association and the farmers market is at a former school. During the offseason and when the weather is inclement, the market is held inside the gym. Dunbar said this is a way to keep farmers and vendors who sell their goods in the market involved.

“Farmers kind of lose their source of income over the winter and folks want to get out,” she said. “We combine the farmers market with a sort of craft and artisan fair to support the local growers and makers throughout the winters.”

The market held its Holiday Pop Up Market on Dec. 4=.  

James Rawson, a volunteer at the market this past season, focused on setting up the market and tending to vendors. Rawson pointed to Dunbar for its success.  

“Kathie Dunbar understood that a large portion of her neighbors are unable to reach the larger food markets, such as Meijer or Kroger, due to transportation issues,” Rawson said. “Also, Kathie and her staff understand that those who are mobile get their food that is rich in sugar and lacks nutrients. Because of Kathie and her staff, I learned a lot about food insecurity and the importance of reinvesting my education into the community.” 

Rawson was slated to dress up as Santa Claus for the holiday market. Rawson said the holiday market is a great way for the community to stay involved and connected. 

Lansing resident and customer of the market Michelle Chambers said the farmers market is important for vendors and area residents. 

“The South Lansing Farmers Market is important because it not only provides an opportunity for local vendors to share their wares and build a clientele base, but also for people in the neighborhood and beyond to have easy access to fresh, reasonably priced, locally grown produce; delicious homemade bakery products; a variety of pre-made ready-to-eat foods; and access to some neat handmade products that you wouldn’t otherwise find in stores,” Chambers said. 

Chambers said she also appreciates the farmers market because it promotes people to be in the Moores Park neighborhood and experience the area. 

“We have a gorgeous park, river trail access and a beautiful historic pool that more people in the Lansing area should be aware of and get to enjoy,” she said.

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