By Jamey Cross

RUSTBURG

The line for the Neighborhood Produce Market stretched down the sidewalk in front of the Campbell County Public Library in Rustburg Thursday as community members waited to fill their bags with free fresh fruits and vegetables.

The result of a partnership between the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, the Campbell County Cooperative Extension and Campbell County libraries, the Neighborhood Produce Market brings produce to the Rustburg library and the Patrick Henry Memorial Library in Brookneal, on the second Thursday of every month. Since the initiative expanded to Campbell County in June, it’s grown in both its size and importance to the community.

Kristi West, Lynchburg area partner services coordinator for the Blue Ridge Food Bank, said attendance at Campbell County’s markets has more than doubled since June.

“We really want it to be a community event,” West said. “Everyone has difficult times once in a while, so if this helps, we want to make it fun and not such a stressful situation.”

Katie Lane, community outreach coordinator for the Campbell County Public Library System, said the library’s role is to market and host the mini market, as well as other area resources. The library provides music, bookmarks, stickers, library cards and other “whimsical” aspects to create a fun atmosphere for the event, Lane said.

“We try to get the vibe right,” Lane said. “We try to make it fun for everyone.”

With family-friendly Kidz Bop music blaring across the packed parking lot, community members came out to the market with reusable shopping bags.

Lane said the initiative has allowed the library to foster a sense of community among area residents, as visitors socialize while they wait in line. Some visitors, such as Mary Alander, even grab produce for homebound neighbors.

Alander said she’s visited the Neighborhood Produce Market in Campbell County three times, and while she began by picking up produce for herself, she started thinking about members of her community who couldn’t make it out and wanted to take some to them as well.

“I decided to make this my ministry to them,” Alander said. “Some people just don’t have it, and if it’s free, why not come and get it? Why not give it to them?”

These mini farmers markets target areas where people struggle to access fruits and vegetables, seeking to promote healthy eating and dietary education. The market is first come, first served, and all are welcome.

According to Abena Foreman-Trice, spokesperson for the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, the two Campbell library locations have distributed roughly 13,000 pounds of produce to a monthly average of 216 children, adults and seniors since June. These locations served 167 community members in June, and hit a peak number of 253 patrons in December.

On Thursday, 1,190 pounds of produce was delivered between the two libraries.

Robbie Morrison, associate extension agent with the Campbell County Cooperative Extension, said she is excited about the partnership and community impact of this initiative. Morrison said the Extension hopes to promote good health and nutrition habits and address area food deserts, which are the shared goals of the food bank.

“A lot of people don’t realize how important fresh fruits and vegetables are to a diet and sometimes, for some people, it’s harder to get them,” Morrison said.

Career resources, recipe books and other health-based information are also dispersed to community members who attend the Neighborhood Produce Market. Some people don’t know how to cook certain produce, such as radishes or turnips, Morrison said, so volunteers make an effort to share recipes and tips the community can try.

Morrison said the community response to this project has been largely positive and attendance has grown steadily since June. Cabbage, apples and radishes were popular items among Thursday’s crowd.

“We have heard wonderful comments from the community,” Morrison said. “I’ve had people tell me what a big impact it’s had and that they’ve been able to feed their kids because of this.”

Since everyone is welcome to attend and take as much produce as they need, Morrison said, the project is able to assist low-income populations and avoid stigmatizing them.

When money gets tight, people often make the choice to purchase cheaper, unhealthy foods, West said. This initiative allows community members to access fresh produce without the price tag.

West said the food bank hopes to have a brick-and-mortar location in Campbell County in the future, and Morrison added they hope to continue growing the mini market initiative to offer more products and services.

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