Farmers markets make Austin a food oasis

Five locations will provide fresh, healthy options

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By LA RISA LYNCH

Long considered a food desert, Austin will be home to five new city-sponsored farmers markets this summer, providing fresh food options for residents.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the additional markets to the Austin area in late April. The markets will be located at three city parks, including Columbus Park, Austin Town Hall and La Follette Park.

Two neighborhood churches, Healing Temple Church, 4941 W. Chicago Ave., and Mount Ebenezer Baptist Church, 3555 W. Huron St., will also host farmers markets. The markets will begin in late June and run through October. LINK cards will be accepted at all neighborhood farmers markets.

"This is one component of a multi-pronged strategy my administration is implementing to ensure healthy food is available to Chicagoans in every single neighborhood," Emanuel said.

This is the first time Austin will be the home to city-sponsored farmers markets. The city targeted Austin for the markets, because the area has limited grocery options, said city spokesperson Bill McCaffrey.

"Food desert" is a term that describes an area that has no or distant mainstream grocery stores to support a healthy daily diet. Without access to healthy food options, incidences of hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and adult and childhood obesity increase. Food deserts in Chicago are mostly located in predominately black communities. And of the nearly 400,000 city residents living in food deserts, more than 100,000 of them are children.

The city is going a step further to ensure healthy eating habits. New to the markets will be healthy cooking demonstrations, an on-site nutritionist and gardening tips. McCaffrey said the cooking demonstrations and gardening tips serve as a "bonus" for people coming to the markets.

"They can learn how to eat healthier and how to prepare the foods available," McCaffrey said.

The city's commitment to open these markets was made at the Emanuel's food access summit in October 2011 with First Lady Michelle Obama and community groups. During the event, Emanuel received commitments from grocery and pharmacy store executives to open 17 new stores and retrofit 19 stores to sell fresh fruit and vegetables.

The city also passed an ordinance fully legalizing urban agriculture and expanding size limits on community gardens.

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