JAMES CITY — In the middle of a food desert, an oasis of fresh fruits and vegetables may be on the horizon in Grove.
And James City County Parks and Recreation is giving residents a way to get there.
This Saturday, the Go Grove shuttle service will pick up Grove residents at the Abram Frink Jr. Community Center and transport them to the Williamsburg Farmers Market in Colonial Williamsburg.
“The farmers market was one of the things that was chosen when we tried to think about the needs that community has,” said Kelley Herbert, James City County recreation operations coordinator. “Obviously, access to fruits and vegetables was one of those.”
As a designated food desert by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, lower James City County, also known as Grove, is a food desert — meaning residents face barriers to getting healthy food because of factors such as distance and income.
Portions of Williamsburg are also listed as food deserts by the USDA.
Residents in food deserts may have to settle for eating at fast food restaurants or getting a meal from a convenience store on a regular basis. As a result, experts say they can suffer the medical side effects of poor nutrition, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
“We’re trying to make sure families feel like they have the opportunity to get to something like a farmers market, where they can buy [fresh produce], or even learn about it,” Herbert said.
Taking the shuttle
Saturday’s shuttle will leave the Abram Frink Jr. Community Center, at 8901 Pocahontas Trail, at 8:30 a.m. It will leave the farmers market to return to Grove at 11 a.m.
Those interested in taking the 11-passenger shuttle will need to reserve their seats by calling Herbert at 757-259-5372. The shuttle will only make one trip to the market Saturday.
If more than 11 people reserve seats, the county will arrange for a second shuttle.
While the shuttle is only scheduled to run for this Saturday’s farmers market, Herbert said the county can increase the number of trips if demand increases.
The last shuttle to run from Grove to the farmers market was in April.
The shuttle is part of the Go Grove program, which transports Grove residents to various parks and recreation activities and events throughout the county.
The locations and activities are chosen based on the Grove community’s needs, which are identified by county staff. Those needs include swimming at county pools, visiting the farmers market and special events such as Family Fun Night.
“We want to give families in from this community that can’t get to these events otherwise an opportunity to get there,” Herbert said.
Food for all
While the parks and recreation shuttle is making it easier for Grove residents to access fruits and vegetables, the farmers market itself is also offering incentives and deals to offset the cost of food.
Williamsburg Farmers Market Director Tracy Herner said the market accepts those with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, also known as EBT/SNAP.
The process is also simple to use those benefits at the market: all residents need to do is go to the information tent and use their EBT/SNAP dollars to purchase tokens.
Further, the Williamsburg Farmers Market will also match the SNAP tokens dollar-for-dollar with “fruit and veggie” tokens, Herner said.
In addition, for every $10 spent, the farmer’s market will give $5 in bonus tokens, which can be spent on SNAP-eligible food items, meaning items not meant for immediate consumption.
“So say you wanted to spend $10 in SNAP at the market,” Herner explained. “You get $10 in SNAP tokens, $10 in free fruit and veggie tokens, and $5 in bonus tokens. You get $25 total to spend.”
In an effort to make fresh produce more accessible for low-income families, the farmers market has accepted EBT/SNAP dollars since the market’s 10-year anniversary in 2013.
“We want people to come to the market and not make fruits and veggies such a hard choice,” Herner said.
Fearing can be reached at email@example.com.