Bringing a small oasis to a ‘food desert’

reposted from University News

If you can’t bring the people to healthy food, says Marianne LeGreco, bring healthy food to the people.

When the Guilford County Department of Public Health identified no fewer than 15 food deserts – areas marked by poverty and distance from grocery stores – in the county, LeGreco, a communication studies professor who specializes in food policy and public health communication, stepped up to help.

LeGreco worked with the Department of Public Health and a citizen taskforce in one “desert,” the Warnersville community south of Lee Street, to organize a Farmers’ Market that supplies fresh foods to residents in their own backyard. She stresses that the push for a farmers’ market in Warnersville is a group effort, involving area residents and numerous community partners.

The Warnersville Farmers’ Market, located at 400 West Whittington Street adjacent to Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, opened in April and will run into the early fall. Hours are 3-7 p.m. on Thursdays, and all comers are welcome.

“If you don’t have money for a car, it can be difficult to get to a grocery store or supermarket,” she says. “If you are depending on public transportation, the Greensboro Transit Authority has bag limits. There’s a big disparity in where businesses want to build grocery stores and where food is most needed, so you find lots of convenience stores and fast food restaurants in these areas but no real grocery stores.”

Food deserts are defined as low-income areas without easy access to groceries. “Easy access” translates to less than one mile away from grocery stores for urban areas and less than 10 miles for rural areas. There are nine identified food deserts in the City of Greensboro alone.

A test-run of the market last year brought out 120 people within two hours on the hottest day of summer, LeGreco says. “It demonstrated that people are willing to come out.”

LeGreco volunteers her time at the market and at Prince of Peace Lutheran’s community garden. She also recruits students from her classes that focus on public health communication.

Plans for the future of the market hinge on recruiting more vendors, cultivating about three more acres of land owned by Prince of Peace, and – most importantly – getting approval to accept EBT cards, once known as food stamps.

“That’s one of the biggest pieces of feedback that we are getting,” LeGreco says. “People want the ability to use their EBT cards. That’s been a challenge for us, because it has been very much an informal market.”

For more information, contact LeGreco at 336.908.1388 or