ROCKINGHAM — Starting today, shoppers at the twice-weekly Rockingham Farmers’ Market can choose to pay with paper or plastic.
The market is now able to accept food stamp card, debit and credit card payments for produce purchases, said Nancy Porter of the Richmond County Health Department. Starting next week, free transportation will be available from several new pickup and drop-off sites.
“The Richmond County Agricultural Extension Office, Richmond County Department of Social Services, Area of Richmond Transit and the Richmond County Health Department are working together to bring fresh produce to the citizens of Richmond County,” Porter said. “On Wednesday, July 8, ART will be making new stops at Memorial Park and the Hamlet Housing Authority in Hamlet, at the building adjacent to the East Rockingham pool and at the old Sara Lee Aleo Plant in East Rockingham and the Rockingham Housing Authority.”
The first pickup each Wednesday will be at 3:15 p.m. and the last bus departs at 5:30 p.m.
The health department conducted customer surveys at the Wednesday farmers’ markets since the season began this year.
“The customer survey revealed that the transportation services needed more publicity and that the pick-up sites needed adjusting,” Porter said. “The survey also showed that SNAP/EBT, debit, and credit services were important to customers.”
People using debit or credit cards to pay for their produce may incur processing fees, Porter said, but those receiving benefits through the supplemental nutrition assistance program, or SNAP, will not.
Porter said county officials are hopeful the expansion of services will increase participation in the farmers’ market.
Regular market hours are 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays at downtown Rockingham’s Harrington Square and 3:30 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays outside the Richmond County DSS building at 125 Caroline Street.
Porter said the U.S. Department of Agriculture had identified East Rockingham as a food desert.
According to the USDA, “Food deserts are defined as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast-food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.”
“Cantaloupe, peaches, blackberries, cucumbers, corn, vine ripe tomatoes, green beans, shelled butter beans, eggplant, okra, cabbage, squash, zucchini, a variety of greens, carrots, and potatoes were available last week at the market,” Porter said. “As crops are harvested, the selection of produce changes.”
In addition to produce, several vendors sell local honey, jewelry, plants, soaps, lotions and natural loofah body scrubbers just to name a few items, Porter said.
Richmond County assistant area agriculture agent Alyssa Anderson and Porter provided customers at the farmers’ market with simple recipes for the healthful produce available at the market. They plan to continue adding clever ways to use items from the farmers’ market in healthy, home-cooked meals.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.