Farmers markets working with SNAP shoppers in New Orleans

Food deserts are a problem in New Orleans, but farmers markets are expanding, bringing fresh produce to lower income neighborhoods.

NEW ORLEANS -- Food deserts have been a problem in New Orleans.

Ten to 15 percent of residents live in lower income neighborhoods more than a mile from the super market. That leaves many families without access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Vanessa Ross stops by the Crescent City Farmers market a few times a month to stock up on fresh produce. Thanks to initiatives like Market Match, SNAP benefits go further.

"This program makes it easier for you," Ross said.

The program is designed to give New Orleans residents on food stamps access to healthy and affordable food.

"We match up to 20 dollars, half of it is for fruits and vegetables, the other half is for items we have to sell," Shalon Jones said.

It's programs like this that have helped cut down on New Orleans food deserts.

"It's an area in which it's difficult to get to the super market, USDA defines it as a mile or more and you're in a low income neighborhood," Tulane Professor Diego Rose said.

Rose is the head of the nutrition section at Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. He's studied access to food in New Orleans for decades.

"The situation has improved a lot over the years. We had a tremendous drop in access to food after Katrina," Rose said.

While Rose says the situation is now getting better, there's still work to be done.

"If you go out to the Lower 9th Ward or New Orleans East for example there's difficulty accessing a super market," Rose said.

Rose says the city as a whole will benefit when all members of our community have access to fresh food.

"It's in our society's interest to get people to eat healthier," Rose said. "If we can get people to buy more fruits and vegetables it will actually save on health care bills down the road."

Not to mention gaining access to healthy food makes a huge difference in people's lives.

"I feel good though," Ross said. "I feel really really good. I feel better."

There are 10 different farmers markets in New Orleans participating in the Market Match Program. All you have to do is go to the farmers market with your SNAP card and you can double your money on produce.  For a list of participating farmers markets: http://www.usdalocalfooddirectories.com/farmersmarketdirectoryupdate/FM_Portal_Public.aspx

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