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Harvest Market: Combating Food Deserts in Northwest Ohio

Small neighborhood grocery stores and farm carts once brought fresh produce to our communities. Now, liquor and convenience stores are the norm, carrying little more than highly processed snack foods and sugary drinks. The result is a growing number of food deserts in Northwest Ohio.

What is a food desert?

The USDA defines food deserts as areas where people have limited access to a variety of healthy and affordable food. Food deserts are characterized by the absence of supermarkets and grocery stores. For those who live within food deserts, access to fruits, vegetables and other whole foods is limited.

Food deserts affect millions of households throughout the country, in both urban and rural communities. However, rural communities are some of the most underserved. In fact, Feeding America states that “three-quarters of the counties with the highest rates of food insecurity are in rural areas.”  Rural food deserts often face increased obstacles such as greater distances to food pantries and soup kitchens, which is especially difficult for those without a vehicle or nearby public transportation.

To combat the effects of food deserts, the Food Bank’s Harvest Market is hitting the roads of rural Northwest Ohio.

What is the Harvest Market?

The Harvest Market is a grocery store on wheels, bringing healthy, wholesome foods to the food deserts of Northwest Ohio. The Harvest Market is a direct service program of the Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank supplementing the need for healthy food options for seniors, children, and families in rural Northwest Ohio communities.

The custom-made refrigerated vehicle keeps product fresh while on the road.

The mission of the Harvest Market is to increase access to healthy food choices with an emphasis on reaching those least served in a food desert. The Harvest Market does this by

  • Operating regularly scheduled stops in low-income, food-insecure communities
  • Offering high quality, locally grown, sustainably produced farm products
  • Accepting SNAP benefits (food stamps)
  • Providing educational resources on how to prepare the market’s offerings

Harvest Market is operated by a small team of Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank staff members and volunteers. Products offered include fresh produce, dairy, meat and shelf stable items such as rice and pasta. Currently, the Harvest Market services the NW Ohio counties of Defiance, Fulton, Henry and Wood.

Harvest Market regularly offers its guests a variety of produce at no cost.

Why was the Harvest Market created?

The Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank recognized the need to create a direct service to help fill in the meal gap, where access to our partner agencies may be limited. Thus, in August of 2016 The Harvest Market was created with the intent to meet hunger where it lives in the rural counties of Northwest Ohio.

Utilizing the “Map the Meal Gap” statistics and findings from Feeding America’s “Hunger in America 2014” study, the Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank discovered an unmet need in the communities we serve. Map the Meal Gap statistics show that 14.8 percent of Northwest Ohioans are food-insecure or are without reliable access to enough nutritious food to lead healthy lives; many client households reported employing a number of coping mechanisms to avoid hunger.

What can you do to help?

Advocate for policies that support hunger relief and create awareness of the hunger issues affecting your community and beyond. Now that you know the facts, share them! A problem no one knows about is a problem no one solves.

Volunteer. Join us at a market day and make a difference. Serve members of your community and be a part of a program that’s makes a difference.

Donate to the Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank to support programs that help fight food insecurity in your community.

Utilize the resource. Are you affected by a food desert? Visit the Harvest Market and shop for healthy food options. If you aren’t in need of our market, share our info with friends, family, and community members that might be. For Harvest Market dates and times, visit https://www.toledofoodbank.org/event/

Additional Resources:

USDA Food Access Research Atlas

Feeding America: Rural Hunger Facts




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