Farmers market to open along North Main

A new farmers market soon will open up another shopping option for north Columbia residents.

“The Food Park” – featuring fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables – will open June 20 with a celebration from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The market will be open every Thursday at 5 p.m. at the corner of North Main and Newman streets, the site of this year’s Cornbread Festival.

“Everyone will use it. It is right in a central spot,” said Sabrina Odom, founder and executive director of the North Columbia Business Association, which is sponsoring the seasonal market. “It’s going to be easy for everybody in that community and surrounding communities to get their fruits and vegetables.”

That is important for good health, said Coleman Tanner, community coordinator of the non-profit Eat Smart, Move More SC group.

“In a lot of areas where there is limited access to grocery stores … people have to rely heavily on processed foods and have diets that are low in fruits and vegetables.”

That means they miss out on high-nutrient, low-calorie foods essential to good health.

In a nod to the movement toward healthier eating and locally grown food, small community farmers markets have popped up across the Midlands since the State Farmers Market moved to Lexington County from Bluff Road three years ago.

Downtown Columbia has two year-round weekly farmers markets: Soda City on Main Street and Vista Marketplace at 701 Whaley in Olympia. Lexington has its own year-round market. And smaller, seasonal markets dot surrounding suburban and urban areas – including the University of South Carolina, Irmo, Northeast Richland, Camden and Richland Mall’s rooftop in Forest Acres.

The markets are particularly crucial to areas, like North Main Street, that have few grocery providers and many low-income residents, who have limited access to transportation, experts say. The North Main area is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a “food desert,” said Kelly Coakley, spokeswoman for the state Agriculture Department.

“There’s just one grocery store,” the Business Association’s Odom said. The new market – within walking distance of many neighborhoods and on public bus routes – will open up options.

“It’s significant,” Coakley said. With an increased focus on South Carolina’s high obesity rate, “making sure that citizens have access to healthy produce and food options is very important.”

One-on-one interaction with growers and others who can help consumers learn to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their meals will lead to healthier communities, Coakley said.

“It’s common sense to ... getting back to what’s grown in the land, those items are healthy,” she said.

The hope is that the market will grow into a community gathering spot, where folks can meet to eat and shop, Odom said. She envisions eventually adding tables and benches to make it a true food park. Once a month, the market will feature extras, such as food trucks, healthy cooking demonstrations and children’s activities.

“We thought about this a long time ago, but we just didn’t have time to make it happen,” Odom said. “We needed to do something about it besides just talk about it.”