Article and pictures by Urban Alliance staff.
"Oh yes! Those are the ones I want," said 92-year old Annie Walton as she excitedly spotted an overflowing carton of ripe tomatoes at the North End Farmers Market last week.
Walton, along with many other Hartford residents, recently received a coupon for $5 in farmers market produce in one of the 14,000 health resource bags that were distributed during the recent weeks as part of Urban Alliance's Revitalize initiative.
Hartford, which is home to only one supermarket in its 18 square miles, is considered a food desert, since at least a fifth of the residents live in poverty and a third live more than a mile from a supermarket, making it especially difficult for residents to access fresh fruits and vegetables.
But, it hasn't always been this way.
"When I was coming up, the government gave us vouchers and you got gloves, a rake, and a plot," Walton remembered. "When my father got that 6x6 we planted food and me and my two sisters had to go and keep it clean. We planted cabbage, collard greens, mustard, turnip, green pepper and okra. What we planted we shared with our neighbors."
Many years have passed since the days of tending to her family's garden or picking vegetables from her neighbor's yard, and the gap of accessibility to fruits and vegetables remains for Walton and many Hartford residents.
Urban Alliance's Revitalize initiative is working to help Hartford residents improve their nutrition and decrease the prevalence of adverse health conditions related to poor diet, like diabetes and heart disease, by providing information and incentives to utilize Hartford farmers markets, which provide an opportunity to access fresh and local produce throughout much of the year.
Shana Smith, North End resident and farmers market manager explained, "Accessibility is key when it comes to nutrition. If there is access to a market and there are coupons to assist, the people will come. When redeeming a Revitalize coupon, they receive a reusable bag and market dollars. They love the bag and are anxious to fill it up with fresh fruits and vegetables!"
As a former long-time employee of Hartford Hospital, Walton is no stranger to the importance of staying healthy, and credits her longevity to making good decisions when it comes to her wellness.
"I walk up and down my apartment stairs every day and I cook from scratch because it is much healthier, but it is difficult to access fresh foods because grocery stores are too far," she said. "The Revitalize coupon I received is wonderful and it would help a lot of people."
Simply because of her zip code, Walton has had to work a little bit harder than many in neighboring towns to maintain her wellness.
But, just like she tended to her family's plot of vegetables when she was a little girl, many are in her corner and are working through Revitalize to nurture and grow opportunities for her and all other Hartford residents to move towards optimal physical health.
"The goal is to provide sustainable, accessible fresh food for all Hartford residents," said market manager Smith. "I believe that the [Revitalize] incentive will help increase attendance. They will tell a friend about the market and coupons. And a friend of a friend. That means more people to the market with a likely chance of them making better food choices."
Revitalize Outreach & Evangelism Training on June 1
UA Initiatives Help Improve Food Security Access to Safew Nutritious Food in the City
2016 Revitalize Coupons Exchanged for Thousands of Dollars in Fresh Produce