FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The HEAL Markets are back for another season. These unique markets offer affordable and nutritious produce to people living in food desert communities where there’s low access to fresh food and a significant number of low-income families.

The first HEAL market of the season – HEAL meaning “Healthy Eating, Active Living” – was held Wednesday, July 13 at McCormick Place where people lined up waiting to fill their bags with tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and other fresh produce.

HEAL Markets run July-October

Mary Tyndall with the St. Joe Foundation says unless there is easy access to healthy food, most people won’t lead as healthy lives as they could.

“There’s really not a large grocery store around here, but now there’s a HEAL market so you can come here and get your healthy fruits and vegetables,” said Tyndall. “Look at the line, look at the people coming, people want fresh fruits and vegetables.”

What sets the HEAL markets apart from typical farmers markets is the payment that’s accepted. Along with cash, debit, and credit, the markets also accept SNAP (food stamps), WIC (Women, Infant and Children) produce vouchers, Senior produce vouchers, and Veggie RX which is a new program through Parkview. Most of the vouchers are matched dollar for dollar. This year, the WIC vouchers are expected to be available in August.

“So maybe you have $20 in SNAP benefits, you get $20 extra dollars to spend on the fresh fruits and vegetables. Maybe you have $20 in your WIC voucher, you get $20 more to spend on fruits and vegetables for the rest of the summer so it goes a long way and it’s helping people stretch their budgets and get that healthy food,” said Tyndall.

Several food vouchers are accepted

Along with affordability and access, Sharon Tubbs, who helps manage and operate the markets through HealthVisions Midwest Fort Wayne, says the markets break down barriers to transportation, language and culture.

“We ask people ‘if these markets weren’t in your neighborhoods would you be able to eat this amount of fruits and veggies’ and the answer is no,” said Tubbs. “We’re helping people to do what is necessary to be healthy and live the vibrant lives that we all want in America.”

“We also have Burmese farmers and we know we have a large Burmese population in Fort Wayne, and they have a wide variety of vegetables and produce you wouldn’t typically see in a grocery store,” said Tyndall. “We all grow up with a different culture and tradition in our families and we want to make sure people have what they’re familiar with and what they like and enjoy, and what their palate really likes.”

At the HEAL markets every year, at least 50% of the consumers are Burmese, and there are interpreters on-site to help translate when needed.

Tubbs says with such a diverse community, the HEAL markets help underserved people better navigate the system, and when she sees the lines of people waiting at the markets each year, she realizes how necessary and needed the markets are in food desert communities.

HEAL market at McCormick Place

“It’s one of the times of the year when we can see the impact on a daily basis,” said Tubbs. “There are people coming to the HEAL market and the fruits and vegetables that they are getting here, is their meal. The voucher that they are afforded from WIC or the double up from SNAP of the Senior vouchers or the Parkview prescription cards that they’re getting, that’s their meal for the day.”

Parkview dieticians are also able to track some of the people who use the markets through the various programs, like Veggie RX, and have seen significant changes in their health.

“If this market wasn’t here, we wouldn’t be able to see those improvements in people’s health and I think that’s what it’s really all about,” said Tyndall.

HEAL markets is a partnership between the St. Joe Foundation and Parkview Health. HealthVisions Midwest Fort Wayne manages and operates the three weekly markets which run July through October.

“We have been in a position to be blessed by blessing others – it makes us feel like we’re doing what we’re called to do in serving others,” said Tubbs.

HEAL Market locations and times are:

  • McCormick Place Market, 3005 McCormick Ave., Wednesdays, July 13-September 28, 5-7 p.m.
  • Parkview Health Greenhouse Market, 1716 Beacon St., Thursdays, July 14-October 27, 4-6 p.m.
  • South Side Farmers Market, 3300 Warsaw St., Saturdays, July 16-October 29, 8 a.m.-Noon.

The collaborative efforts go deeper than food, as well. School supplies are handed out, and there are plans to hold health screenings, diaper drives, and concerts at the markets throughout the season.