Mobile Markets bring nutritious food and fun to young and old

Leo Perez, center, Oklahoma State University Extension educator, special projects, helps senior residents in Haskell, Oklahoma, select locally grown fruits and vegetables during the downtown Mobile Market. (Photo by Mitchell Alcala, Oklahoma State University Agriculture.)

Pop-up Mobile Markets were a big hit in nine Oklahoma communities this summer thanks to Oklahoma State University Extension and partnering agencies.

The Mobile Markets were hosted in Stilwell, Muskogee, Webber Falls, Porum, Haskell, Boynton, Westville, Taft and Warner through October. The markets in Muskogee were available to Head Start students while the others were open to senior adults. Partnering agencies included Healthy Oklahoma Nutrition Alliance, Eastern Oklahoma Development District’s Area Agency on Aging, Muskogee County Health Department, Cherokee Nation, Muskogee and Adair counties’ TSET Healthy Living Programs and OSU Extension’s High Obesity Program.

“The purpose behind the Mobile Markets was to break down barriers and increase access to healthy foods in these rural communities,” said Leo Perez, Oklahoma State University Extension educator, special projects. “The Mobile Markets get fresh produce directly into the hands of senior citizens. There are a lot of health benefits of having a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Perez said the markets distributed a total of 8,371 pounds of locally sourced produce and beef during the summer.

Selections at the Mobile Market included sweet potatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, okra, red potatoes, green beans, squash, zucchini, corn, butternut squash, tomatoes and either ground beef or beef patties. The Eastern Oklahoma Development District’s Area Agency on Aging provided each market visitor with $15 in Market Bucks to spend on the foods of their choice, said Marissa Proctor, the agency’s social services specialist.

“This market in Haskell is one of six markets we host in Muskogee County,” she said. “These residents don’t have access to fresh foods like they do in bigger communities, and they appreciate what we have to offer at the Mobile Markets. Plus, coming to the market has helped them with social isolation.”

Haskell resident Betty Rogers participated in the Mobile Markets all summer. She said she used her Market Bucks for meat, and she always picked up some of her favorites, including tomatoes and okra.

“This is a very good program because it isn’t just about getting the food; we get to fellowship with the young people who run it and with each other,” Rogers said. “We get recipes and ideas on how to use the food. The people are so nice and helpful. I just love it.”

Lacey Wallace, High Obesity Program manager in the Northeast District Extension office, said the Mobile Market’s offering of fresh foods complemented a valuable social outlet for senior citizens.

“People would line up early each time and it was great for social interaction,” Wallace said.

Lainey Porter, president of the Healthy Oklahoma Nutrition Alliance, acquired the fruits, vegetables and meat from local growers and producers.

“This has been a great outlet for the producers who provided the fruits, vegetables and beef,” she said. “The seniors participating appreciate and value the foods that were provided. It has been fun to hear them talk about nostalgic recipes such as patty pan squash.”

The synergy of the partnering groups working together is part of what makes the Mobile Markets so successful, said Tiffany Tolbert of the Muskogee County Health Department.

“We work together and understand we all have to step up and make it happen,” Tolbert said. “Some of the communities we serve don’t have a local grocery store or affordable options, so it’s important to bring fresh produce to these areas. Everyone has the right to have access to healthy food that’s affordable.”

Janice Hermann, OSU Extension nutrition specialist, said an internal OSU Extension grant funded a food safety component of the Mobile Markets in which participants received a handy kitchen tool at no cost.

“Each of the Mobile Markets had a food safety message for the participants,” Hermann said. “Eating nutritious foods is important, but food safety also plays a role in good health.”

Hermann presented information on four basic kitchen safety rules, including cleaning fruits and vegetables, using separate cutting boards for meats and fresh produce, cooking to proper internal temperatures and chilling. Visitors to the markets received a different kitchen utensil each month, including a vegetable scrubber, small cutting board, food thermometer and refrigerator thermometer.

“This work would not be possible without all of the support from our community partners, and we’re proud of our teams’ efforts and the impact we made this season,” Perez said.

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