FORT WORTH -- Martha Rocha visited Tarrant County Public Health on Wednesday, but not for medical reasons.
She wanted the black-eyed peas, cantaloupes and okra on sale in the parking lot.
Instead of cash, she paid with $2 vouchers from a state program that promotes healthful eating. Tarrant County teamed with local farmers last year to better connect low-income families with locally grown healthful foods.
"It is so fresh here," said Rocha, of Fort Worth. "You can't find it like this in my grocery store or eating out."
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The farmers market is one of three that opened after the health department received a three-year, $150,000 federal grant last July to fight obesity. The other markets are in Richland Hills and Pantego.
Farmers have redeemed $56,000 in vouchers from the Women, Infants and Children Program this year, up from $36,000 last year -- a clear sign that the markets are growing in popularity, health officials said.
The market in Fort Worth, open Wednesdays, attracts people from the health department and nearby John Peter Smith Hospital, said Vanassa Joseph, a department spokeswoman.
Both agencies serve a large number of low-income families that have limited access to healthful food. A 2008 Star-Telegram analysis showed that North Texas neighborhoods with lower incomes attract a disproportionate number of fast-food restaurants.
Interest in farmers markets has grown nationally in recent years, but low-income populations remain detached from local and healthful foods, according to Local Harvest, an organization that promotes organic and local eating.
One barrier is transportation: The markets are not always on public transportation routes. The health department is on a bus line.
"This location is really good because it brings fresh produce into an area that really lacks in grocery stores," said Ann Salyer-Caldwell, associate director for community health promotions at the health department. "Our employees take advantage of it, too."
On Wednesday, Scott Farms in Cisco, Doak Orchards in Montague County and Joe Rodrigs' farm in Bowie had booths on the south side of the parking lot. Scott Farms sold $3 bags of sweet onions, $6 to $10 bags of black-eyed peas, Japanese and black beauty eggplants, cantaloupes and yellow watermelons.
"Some people stop by after leaving their health department appointments. Business is steady here," said Julie Jennings, who runs the stand.
More than 90 percent of purchases involve state vouchers, said Rodrigs, who sold peaches, watermelons and cantaloupes. The Texas Department of State Health Services reimburses the farmers for the vouchers.
The reimbursements usually take a month or so, he said.
To help people turn the produce into tasty dishes, the health department offers recipes at tinyurl.com/lfnfba. Each month, the department focuses on a color of food and distributes information to clients about why foods of that color are good for them.
"You don't want people to get all this food, then wonder what to do with it," Joseph said. "We give them a lot of ideas."
This year's market at the health department will continue at least through September, Salyer-Caldwell said.
That market is open Wednesdays from about 8:30 a.m. to noon.
Farmer’s Market Hours and Locations
Pantego Bicentennial Park
1818 Nora Drive, Pantego
Tues/Sat, 8 am-Sellout
Directions: From Pioneer Parkway (TX 303) go north on Bowen Road to Smith Barry Road and turn left. Take Smith Barry Road going west to Nora Drive. Turn right on Nora Drive.
North Richland Hills Elementary School
6980 Baker Blvd, Richland Hills
Wed/Sat, 2-6 pm
Directions: On the south side of Baker Blvd. and Latham in the open lot by the school. Baker Blvd. is also known as Hwy 10 it is west of 820 and north of Interstate 30.
3821 Southwest Blvd, Fort Worth
Wed/Sat, 8 am-Sellout
Directions: On the east side of the Weatherford Traffic Circle on Southwest Blvd. (Hwy 183).
325 South Main Street, Grapevine
Thurs/Sat, 8 am-Sellout
Directions: On Main Street in Downtown Grapevine, one block south of City Hall.
120 West Main St, Grand Prairie
Thurs/Sat, 8 am-Sellout
Directions: From Hwy 360 go east on Division Street. Division Street turns into West Main. (TX 180).