If you like buying fresh fruits and vegetables directly from the farmer, you can shop for them this summer in a Billings park. The Healthy By Design Gardeners’ Market has moved from the campus of RiverStone Health to South Park.
The move, made possible through a partnership with Billings Parks, Recreation and Public Lands, brings the Thursday night market to the heart of the South Side, an area with no supermarkets.
Fresh vegetables can seem like a luxury to people who live in neighborhoods without supermarkets and lack reliable transportation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies the South Side as a “food desert,” meaning the neighborhood lacks a grocery store carrying fresh produce and a range of healthy foods. In the 2014 Community Health Needs Assessment, nearly a quarter of Yellowstone County residents reported difficulty finding affordable and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Healthy by Design, a community coalition working to improve health and well-being, launched the market to help solve those needs and to help encourage residents to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day. The market was also envisioned as a social space to celebrate health and nutrition.
Everyone is welcome to shop at the Gardeners’ Market, which is in its fourth season. In addition to buying fresh produce and crafts, shoppers enjoy free samples of fresh produce, listen to local musicians, and take part in kid-friendly gardening activities organized by the Master Gardeners. The Master Gardeners plan to bring back their popular children’s games including a scavenger hunt, bug exhibit, and making a garden out of a water bottle.
The market offers several new and convenient services this summer. Shoppers can use their debit or credit cards to purchase produce. They can also use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, formerly known as food stamps. As in past years, market vendors accept Women, Infants and Children Farm Direct Benefits.
John Whitman and his wife, Elaine, who have sold vegetables at the Gardeners’ Market for several years, see the move to South Park as a way to make the market more family-oriented.
“There will be shade there which is nice,” John Whitman said. “If kids come they’ll have an opportunity to play and walk around in the grass while the parents shop.”
In summer, the Whitmans look forward to sharing the bounty of their backyard garden.
“It’s the people that bring us back each week, the clients that come to shop. And of course we have our surplus products from home," he said. "The customers are getting a high quality product. The kale we sell in the afternoon is picked that morning.”
Whether it’s the promise of fresh vegetables that draws shoppers, the kid-pleasing activities of the Master Gardeners or the grassy play space of South Park, the Gardeners’ Market has entered a new season of change and growth.
Hannah Silveus, the Gardeners’ Market manager and a prevention health specialist in Population Health Services at RiverStone Health, can be reached at 651-6444 or firstname.lastname@example.org.