Frenchtown Focuses On Health, Economic Opportunity

By: FrenchtownMarket-Tally Email
By: FrenchtownMarket-Tally Email

News Release: FrenchtownMarket-Tally

TALLAHASSEE, FL – When the tents go up on Saturday, a victory cheer will rise from the corner of Georgia and Macomb Streets. One man will watch the exchanges taking place under colorful canopies, and he will smile.

Jim Bellamy, president of the Frenchtown Neighborhood Improvement Association, the organization that runs the farmers market, shrugs when asked about his daily effort to build solutions for his neighborhood.

“I’m always looking toward the future,” Bellamy says. “I see what can this can be.”

The Frenchtown Heritage Marketplace represents more than a decade of work by neighborhood leaders, residents and support organizations. An extensive network has formed to address striking health disparities by increasing availability of and access to healthy food.

Local findings confirm federal health statistics that show an increased risk of stroke, heart disease and obesity in communities of color. According to County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, more than 22,000 people in Leon County have limited access to healthy food. The coalition behind the Frenchtown Heritage Marketplace project believes these numbers are connected.

The Florida Blue Foundation provides funding and organizational support to six cities across the state selected for inclusion in the “Embrace a Healthy Florida” initiative, which focuses on education and outreach to address childhood obesity. Tallahassee is unique among selected cities for its collaborative leadership structure and focus on youth programs.

Community organizer Miaisha Mitchell has been instrumental in identifying health issues and pursuing connections to solve them. She is the executive director of the Frenchtown Revitalization Council, and a member of the diverse Childhood Obesity Prevention Education (COPE) Coalition.

“We looked around at the vacant lots and realized we could grow our own food,” says Mitchell. “Then we realized we needed a better way to get the food in people’s hands, and to help them understand why and how to eat it.”

As the Florida Blue Foundation’s Embrace initiative draws to a close, after substantial investment in host communities, foundation representatives and local leaders are shifting attention to the “legacy” phase of the program. Tallahassee’s COPE Coalition is exploring ways that Frenchtown can sustain the important work begun in resident engagement with health. The Frenchtown Heritage Marketplace emerges as a major component of that answer.

“It took me two years and a few headaches, but I finally got it.” Bellamy is referring to the market’s EBT machine. “Now we can make a real difference.”

The Frenchtown Heritage Marketplace is the area’s only farmers market with centralized EBT capability, increasing food access and purchasing power for the market’s customers. Wholesome Wave and Florida Organic Growers and Consumers, Inc., are also sponsoring Fresh Access Bucks, an incentive program available at the Frenchtown market that doubles SNAP benefit spending power for produce.

Market objectives don’t stop at food access, however. The centralized EBT capability represents a valuable opportunity for farm-to-table vendors too, providing access to millions in SNAP benefits spent in Leon County each year. Vendor access extends the micro-enterprise prospects available to Frenchtown residents as well.

“We’re working to establish a permanent marketplace in Frenchtown,” says Anthony Gaudio, president of Sustainable Tallahassee. “A consistently-occurring neighborhood farmers market is an important step in that direction.”

Gaudio is serving as a Community Catalyst for the Knight Creative Communities Institute (KCCI) 2013-2014 season. KCCI has a positive track record facilitating citizen engagement with the progress and scope of development projects in Tallahassee, including Gaines Street and Cascades Park.

KCCI Catalysts have joined neighborhood organizers to help realize the vision of a permanent, destination-style marketplace in Frenchtown. The Community Redevelopment Agency has been supportive of project efforts. The agency’s board members and staff give generously of their time to reach a development solution that meets the community’s health and enterprise objectives.

“I am pleased to work as part of the Community Redevelopment Agency to support initiatives such as the opening of the Frenchtown Heritage Marketplace,” said Mayor John Marks, who serves as Chair of the CRA Board. “Ensuring that our residents have access to healthy and affordable food is one of our community’s highest priorities.”

Big Bend residents can support the project by attending the farmers market that opens this Saturday, April 19th, at the corner of Georgia and Macomb Streets, and runs from 9am to 1pm. Market visitors will enjoy locally-grown produce, locally-caught seafood, live herbs, fresh eggs and locally-jarred honey, jams and jellies. Tax-deductible donations can be made through the Frenchtown Neighborhood Improvement Association. Project developments can be followed on Facebook (@FrenchtownMarket-Tally) and the market’s website, www.frenchtownheritage.org.


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