Last updated: August 25. 2013 1:59AM - 324 Views

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There are certain memories associated with summer. For many of us, those include childhood days spent in a seemingly unending loop of playing outside, annual family vacations, and the simple joy of a supper drawn straight from the family garden.

Sadly, not everyone shares those memories. For an overwhelming number of families in Allen County, fresh produce is a dream that is, literally, out of reach. For their children. Something as basic and beautiful as a vine-fresh tomato is a foreign and exotic an ideal as star fruit would have been to us when we were their age.

In Allen County, more than 18,000 people live in what is classified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a food desert. That means they live in low-income areas where more than 33 percent of the population live farther than one mile away from an affordable food source. That’s a problem, and not just because we believe everyone should experience the joy of a garden-plucked tomato.

A recent Health Needs Assessment of Allen County revealed that 59 percent of adults and 63 percent of youth do not consume vegetables on a weekly basis. Seventy-seven percent of Allen County adults are overweight or obese and 32 percent of our youth are overweight or obese. Providing access to locally grown fruits and vegetables by developing partnerships between local farmers and retail locations will increase healthy eating and result in a reduction in overweight or obese individuals.

Earlier this year, Activate Allen County joined with partners across the community to tackle this problem head-on. The newly-formed Food Desert Work Group is gathering focus groups across the county to help identify barriers to healthy eating and solutions to help us break down those hurdles. Later this year, we will unveil the Mobile Produce Bus, a former RTA bus retrofitted by students at Apollo Career Center to house fresh produce that will make stops around the county. The initial route will target the low income senior living centers, although the bus is open to everyone in the community.

There are things all of us can do to help make Allen County a place where everyone has access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

• If you have a garden, share the extras. Take those excess zucchini to work or church. Find a neighborhood food pantry or soup kitchen. Better yet, find a local family that doesn’t have access to fresh food and share the joy.

• Help out at a community garden. There are at least a dozen public gardens around Allen County, and they could use your expertise. And if there’s not one near you, get together with your church or social club and start one.

• Support your local Farmer’s Market. There are Farmer’s Markets in Bluffton every Saturday morning, as well as a Lima market each Saturday at the Squirty Worm Park on Robb Avenue. St. Rita’s Medical Center hosts a farmer’s market every Thursday at their campus. And the Orthopaedic Institute of Ohio hosts one from noon to 2 p.m. on Fridays.

• Get involved. Go to www.ActivateAllenCounty.com for a schedule of Produce Bus stops and tools for helping all Allen County residents make the healthy choice the easy choice.

Health tips courtesy of Activate Allen County will appear in this space every Monday.

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