An area partnership is working to bring fresh produce to organizations serving meals to allow more people to enjoy what the Tahlequah Farmers’ Market has to offer.

The Cherokee County Community Health Coalition has partnered with TFM to offer healthy fruits, vegetables, and meat to local organizations that feed the community. The Tahlequah Senior Citizens Center, the Day Center, and Help In Crisis were selected as the agencies to receive $1,250 in credit to the market.

“Essentially, those organizations send somebody who is in charge of their meal planning – or their cooks – down to the Farmers’ Market, and they get to spend that credit any way they want to,” said Mark Giese, chair of the CCCHC. “Then they take the fresh fruit and vegetables back and prepare them along with their ordinary meals.”

The Cherokee County TSET Health Living Program spent the first part of a five-year grant to gather data and assess community needs to improve the health of Cherokee Countians. In a comprehensive study, the TSET group found the majority of its participants would eat more fruits and vegetables if they were available, and would prefer greater access to the Farmers’ Market. So it wasn’t an arbitrary decision of the CCCHC.

“The TSET organization has a couple of people on our committee, so we took a look at the data TSET had collected,” Giese said. “They found out this idea of a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables was really kind of their top need. So we took the actual data that was available to us and chose it, because that was a need the citizens said we had.”

The Day Center has already taken advantage of the new program. Billie White, a cook at the Day Center, went over to the market to get some tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and a couple beef roasts to make for those the Center assists. The Day Center is known for serving lunch to anyone experiencing homelessness, or at risk of it. White said they typically serve between 50 and 100 people a day.

“We identified groups that we felt like would benefit from the project, and also could use the assistance from us,” said Heather Winn, of the Cherokee County OSU Extension Office. “This is a project that’s going to benefit the farmers at the Farmers’ Market, but also all the families who eat meals at these organizations.”

Another initiative to help improve the diet of area residents is the Coalition’s Veggie Bucks program. In the past, TFM vendors have gone to local schools, where they talked with vendors about the importance of fruits and vegetables, set up booths, and gave the kids veggie bucks so they could buy produce and bring it home with them.

“It’s the same program, except the students are going to the Farmers’ Market, and it’s part of the Backpack Program for Tahlequah Public Schools,” Winn said. “The backpacks usually have ready-to-eat foods that kids can have ready to go, but we thought we would add those to the backpack program and see if families would eat more fruits and vegetables if they had the opportunity to purchase them.”

The Active Living and Transportation committee is hosting a Back-to-School Bash Saturday, Aug. 7, from 10 a.m. to noon, at Norris Park. There, students can get $20 worth of veggies bucks when they stop by to get school supplies.

“So, theoretically, parents will have their children in tow. Then they can take the veggie bucks directly across the street to the Farmers’ Market and use those veggie bucks accordingly,” Giese said. “That also involves people who may not ordinarily go to the Farmers’ Market, and involves kids who many not even know what a farmers’ market is. So there’s a couple of different reasons why it’s a good program.”

Get involved

People, businesses, and organizations are also encouraged to donate to the CCCHC’s programs. There are four different levels of donations available: bronze, $100 to $500; silver, $500 to $1,000; gold, $1,000 and more; and platinum, $5,000. To inquire about donations, call Giese at 918-931-0572.

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