BALOG COLUMN: Put fresh food where it's needed most

Today you can go to Park Circle for the weekly North Charleston Farmers Market to pick up some fresh produce.

But just about two miles away, at the former Shipwatch Square, there's no place to get food at all — fresh or otherwise.

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey is holding firm on the Shipwatch Square/Naval Hospital sale, and on his commitment to bring a grocery store to the city's food desert.

The city's farmers market has had great success at its current location at Park Circle, said Belinda Swindler, who coordinates the market for the city. But there's good reason to consider a change to either Shipwatch Square or the former Chicora Elementary School.

Either one would put fresh food within walking distance of a lot of folks who have few other options.

Convenience vs. responsibility

Farmers markets are a convenience for some folks, a place for socializing as well as picking up some fresh fruits and veggies, flowers, and maybe some locally made prepared foods.

But for other people, a farmers market can be the difference between fresh food and canned, or fresh food and convenience foods. And that can make a big difference nutritionally.

Swindler noted the convenience of the Park Circle location for vehicle and foot traffic. She said parking was a problem when the market was in Old North Charleston because foot traffic was good, but people had a hard time parking. “That's not to say they wouldn't consider it,” Swindler added.

Well, parking shouldn't be a problem at either location, since they're both vacant. And at least two farmers at the market accept electronic benefits cards, which would also presumably help make it more attractive.

Bridging the gap

Creating and sustaining a farmers market takes a lot of work.

Metanoia CEO Bill Stanfield found that out when his group established a farmers market at the old Chicora Elementary School in 2007 and 2008.

“You kind of have to get in people's heads and schedules,” he said, meaning that if you're there from 3-7 p.m. on Thursday, you should be there from 3-7 p.m. every Thursday.

Their market had some outside forces that caused it to lose traction, including record-high gas prices.

But Stanfield said he'd be interested “if the city wanted to talk to us about possibilities, reviving what we had going on,” as long as they addressed some of the factors that caused the farmers market to close the last time, like the lack of publicity.

It could be a temporary solution, working on a couple of levels: it would help bridge the gap until a grocery store comes to Shipwatch Square and it would bring interest and activity to either location until redevelopment occurs.

Ryan Johnson, North Charleston spokesman, said they will poll the farmers today to gauge their interest in moving to a new location.

“Of course we can't make it work without the farmers,” he said. And they, in turn, can't make it work without customers.

Surely the folks who already are patrons of the market would be willing to travel the extra distance as a trade-off so that more folks could take advantage of fresh food.



Reach Melanie Balog at mbalog@postandcourier.com or 937-5565.

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