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Geraldson Community Farm, Florida Department of Health Manatee awarded USDA grant

Christa Leonard is shown with organic tomatoes being grown at Geraldson Community Farm. Geraldson will provide fruits and vegetables on a mobile food market sponsored by a USDA grant. 
 JAMES A. JONES JR./Bradenton Herald
Christa Leonard is shown with organic tomatoes being grown at Geraldson Community Farm. Geraldson will provide fruits and vegetables on a mobile food market sponsored by a USDA grant. JAMES A. JONES JR./Bradenton Herald

MANATEE -- Starting next year, Geraldson Community Farm and the Florida Department of Health Office in Manatee County will work together to get fresh food to impoverished areas.

The two organizations were awarded a $100,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to develop a mobile farmers' market. The mobile market was born out of a one-year DOH study focused on food deserts in Palmetto, Rubonia, East Bradenton, Pine Village and Samoset.

The grant will be used over two years to purchase the bus, operate the bus and retrofit it with all necessary equipment, including a generator, freezers, shelves and an air conditioning system.

The market is set to open in February and will accept food stamps.

Healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables from Geraldson Community Farm will be available in the mobile market. The air-conditioned bus also will feature other goods from local farmers and businesses.

One of every four Florida children is not sure where their next meal is coming from.

The state pattern also re

flects Manatee County's food-desert population.

"In Manatee County, only 24 percent of residents live within a half-mile of a healthy food source," said Dr. Jennifer Bencie, administrator of the DOH Manatee County office. "Due to low access, our residents are not able to eat enough fruits and vegetables and, consequently, over 61 percent of Manatee County adults are overweight or obese."

In the study, food desert residents "overwhelmingly" requested that fresh fruits and vegetables be made available close to their homes, according to Megan Jourdan, director of public health practice and policy.

Seventeen percent of adults in Manatee County eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

"After hitting barriers in creating standing farmers markets in these neighborhoods, our community agreed a mobile market was the perfect answer," Jourdan said.

The mobile market's schedule, food selection and educational programming will be determined with input from residents.

In September, a day-long event in Palmetto at the Bradenton Area Convention Center brought together local officials to discuss the problem at the third annual "Roots of Hunger" forum.

Florida's Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam spoke of the many effects hunger has on a child's life.

"It's access, not supply," Putnam said in September. "It's logistics. It's behavioral science. It's education. But it is not supply."

Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095 or follow her on Twitter@jayohday.

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