Pilot program brings fresh produce directly to Flint's food desert

FLINT, Michigan—Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village (SBEV) is leading a pilot project that is bringing holistic care to youth and their families with a weekly produce market in partnership with Flint Fresh called the Village Market.


“In order to engage with youth and make sure all their needs are being met, if they’re hungry you got to feed them,” said Maryum Rasool, executive director of SBEV.


Under a Community Foundation of Greater Flint Upward Mobility grant from the Toyota Foundation Drive4Five Initiative, the market opened nearly five months ago as a way of addressing the persistent food desert in north Flint.


“Toyota approached the Community Foundation and the Community Foundation told them about us. They wanted to have a food giveaway with Flint Fresh serving our families, but we wanted to make this a little bit more sustainable, so we came up with the idea of offering this service one day a week.”


Every Thursday from 4:30 p.m.-7 p.m. Flint Fresh brings a large offering of perishable goods that SBEV families and the greater public can purchase at a discounted price either through a $10 voucher, cash, or electronic benefit transfer (EBT). Families are also encouraged to sign up for the Double Up Food Bucks, a yearlong program that allows for additional funds to be used toward fruits and vegetables when using an EBT card.


“By partnering with SBEV we are able to build on their existing nutrition classes, provide easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables for families that are already participating in SBEV programming, and create a reliable local marketplace for the residents of Ward 3 and beyond,” said Brian Schorr, executive director of Flint Fresh.


So far Rasool has seen over a 160 families come to the Village Market, located directly in front of the building’s entrance, and leave with arms full of produce. According to Rasool, many are able to arrive by car or public transportation but there are many that visit the market on foot. Although a majority of the families are those from Flint, Rasool said that there a few from Beecher and some that inquire about the market from Burton. The need is far-reaching and continues to grow as buying food for the month often leaves out the risk of buying produce that has a short shelf life.


“The thing about fruits and veggies are they’re perishable. You can’t stockpile,” said Rasool. “And a lot of families, they shop ahead of time for the month...so they need those canned foods. They need those things that can last throughout.”


The pilot weekly offering gives an interim opportunity for families to dedicate a portion of their diet to something fresh and new with more community and financial support that’s part of SBEV efforts for more parent engagement.


“A trust has been built. So they see that it's not...you’re dropping your kids off, they run around in circles and go home. No. You’re dropping your kids off and we’re giving you the supportive services to the best of our abilities.”


For questions or more information about the Village Market visit their website or contact Flint Fresh at 810-620-1902 or email [email protected].

For transparency: Alexandria Brown, managing editor of Flintside, was previously employed at Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village in 2018.
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Read more articles by Xandr Brown.