JOHNSON CITY – A doctoral candidate in the East Tennessee State University College of Public Health has received grant funding to support her research of how effective managers of farmers markets are in facilitating the creation of business opportunities for small farmers and helping increase access to healthy foods for low-income households.
Rachel Ward, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in community and behavioral health, received the grant from the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program. SARE is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which provided $4 million in funding to farmers markets over the course of two years as an incentive for farmers to offer healthier foods to consumers.
The USDA push for more nutritious foods was of particular interest to Ward, since increasing access to healthier foods for low-income households is a central tenet of public health. Also, Ward has a personal investment in the topic, as she was integral in the founding of the Farmers Market at ETSU and is manager of the market.
The focus of Ward's research is how effective market managers are in promoting the USDA nutrition goals, as well as their role in increasing business opportunities for farms that are of moderate size and smaller.
"Farmers market managers can play a crucial role in promoting the availability of nutritious foods, but there hasn't so far been any research that speaks to their perception of what role they play in promoting healthy foods at markets," Ward said. "We also want to examine the association between managers' perceptions of increasing business opportunities for small- and moderate-sized farms and how that perception correlates to vendor recruitment, sales and customer numbers."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have endorsed farmers markets for their potential to increase access to healthy foods for at-risk populations, Ward said, but significant barriers – such as transportation issues, lack of awareness of market benefits and cultural issues – could prevent a large contingent of the population from becoming farmers market customers.
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