Mecklenburg County Public Health Leaders Address Food Insecurity By Expanding Programs

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County Public Health is expanding programs to make fresh fruits and vegetables readily available to those in need this summer.

Public health officials say as farmers markets make their appearance for the season, the county will expand programs to help those experiencing food insecurity or who live in food deserts.

“Poor diet contributes to poor health,” says Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris. “Several issues contribute to this, including access and cost—healthy food costs more and low-income individuals are more likely to be exposed to advertising for unhealthy food, and to retail locations that sell it. Our programs work to address these issues and help ensure equitable access to healthy and nutritious foods.”

Officials say the program “You SNAP, We Match” will expand to allow residents to use their SNAP/EBT benefits at participating farmers markets, while receiving a dollar-for-dollar match on their purchases of fresh produce.

Nearly 15 percent of homes in Mecklenburg County are considered food insecure, meaning they have a reduced quality and variety of diet due to lack of money and resources, officials say.

Officials with the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners say this year they have placed a priority on addressing food security and allocating resources to scale up programs that provide healthier food in food insecure locations.

“For many, the only sources of food in their neighborhood are either from fast food locations or prepackaged items from convenience stores, says Erin Link, Executive Director of the American Heart Association. “Every member of our community should have the opportunity to access healthy foods both easily and affordably while also knowing how to use them in their own home. American Heart Association is proud to partner with Mecklenburg County to implement innovative solutions that address the unique challenges faced by many in our community.”

Officials say the initiative will also welcome four new farmers markets to Mecklenburg County, including two organized by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council with funding from MCPH to serve their immediate neighborhoods.

Check out the list of new markets open this summer in Mecklenburg County:

  • Valerie C. Woodard Center, 3205 Freedom Drive, operating Fridays, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  • The Plaza Academy for Youth, 1000 Anderson Street, operating Wednesdays, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Camp North End, 300 Camp Road, operating Wednesdays, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Urban Farm at Aldersgate, 4101 Somerdale Lane, operating Thursdays, 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Officials say other initiatives to address food insecurity in the county include:

  • A refrigerator pilot program through the County’s Healthy Corner Store initiative, providing healthy fruits, vegetables, and other foods at locally-owned corner grocery stores. This program includes promotion by the American Heart Association of healthy options and signage for recipes.
  • Development of additional locations of community orchards and gardens through the Edible Landscapes Program.
  • A partnership with Rivendell Farms of the Carolinas to develop and expand interactive online food resource maps, with information including food banks and boxes, delivery, free lunches, farmers markets, and more.
  • A partnership with Reinvestment Partners to expand its food as prescription program model in Mecklenburg County grocery stores.