DALLAS – Sunny South Community Garden is one place in the heart of South Dallas that is providing healthy food options.
"We've got okra. We've got tomatoes, we've got cucumbers," Clarice Criss said.
The Garden is tucked in a neighborhood where quality fruits and vegetables are a challenge to find. "This garden is here in this community because it's often overlooked,” she explained.
Criss is an urban farmer and an agriculture specialist. She is among a group of people working to address food challenges across southern Dallas.
"The access to the food that we have in this community right now, is not equitable to the rest of the city,” said Criss.
“If I want something to eat, my options are burgers, fried chicken, fried catfish. We don't have access to fresh produce in this neighborhood," she said.
Access to fresh healthy foods, and options, are what advocates are determined to make sure more families get.
Each Tuesday, there are large crowds packing the lobbies of local Women, Infants, and Children or “WIC” offices in Dallas. They are lining up to pick out and purchase produce at the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program.
“Produce is so high, you can't get it every day,” said Marsha Brown.
It is Brown’s first time visiting the WIC Farmers Market with her daughter. Here, registered clients can use vouchers to get a variety of locally grown and organic produce at an economical price.
“I'm loving it,” Brown said. “This needs to go in different places in the neighborhood."
The WIC Farmers Market is a partnership with the non-profit Grow North Texas. After two years, it is now serving hundreds of families from WIC locations in either Oak Cliff or Pleasant Grove.
Susie Marshall is the executive director. "We are seeing an amazing amount of response to the program. This is the first time that this has been done in Dallas," Marshall said.
Families coming here can purchase locally grown, organic foods, at low cost.
"For me, it's very, very, important to give my kids fresh food,” said Layza Vera who is a mom of three. She says she is not surprised that so many families are shopping here.
“My store, sometimes, don't carry everything fresh like this,” Vera explained. “Sometimes it has bugs on top. Everything's all squishy."
For those on fixed or tight incomes, traveling outside their neighborhoods, just to get fresh foods, is frustrating.
Brown explained, “I've said it's all about the region and where you stay. To get better produce and things like that. And it's a shame. I feel like our money is green too, and we should get the same produce that everybody else gets."
Back in South Dallas, Criss calls urban farms and the WIC Farmers Markets “game changers” for areas where nutrition-based health challenges are high.
"It's changed the way that people respond to food,” Criss added. “It's changed the way that they view how they can receive food. And the food that they deserve to eat."
But in food deserts, the path to providing what some people eat is part of a political puzzle that needs work.
The WIC Farmers Market runs out of the Ledbetter and Buckner Road offices alternating Tuesdays. Dallas County residents who are eligible for WIC benefits may be eligible to participate with the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program.
Families can check with their local WIC clinic to see if they apply for vouchers for the WIC Farmers Market.
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