For many years, Beaufort County residents had limited access to healthy food options. What side of town you lived on determined how much access you had to fresh and nutritious food. Locally grown food items were more expensive and hard or impossible to find at the local store, and some neighborhoods had no grocery stores at all. Many residents also felt that farmer’s markets were somehow off-limits, as if having a low-range income made them an unwelcome shopper at weekend markets outside of their neighborhoods.
All of this was changing when the Washington City Market sprang to life.
Beaufort County resident Bill Booth saw a need in his community and decided to be a part of the solution. He noticed an empty lot in Washington, took out a second mortgage, and amassed community support to build a pavilion using donated and self-purchased supplies, eventually adding electricity and running water. Thus, Washington City Market was born.
“Start with a passion, and people will begin to gravitate toward creating the momentum,” said Booth.
Booth saw that at the same time many of his neighbors were struggling to access food there were many farmers and produce growers in the area who were selling or even giving away as much as they could, but still had a surplus.
With support from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust and Healthy Places North Carolina—the Trust’s signature initiative to improve health in rural communities – Booth has inspired residents to get involved in creating and supporting the marketplace. He engaged residents to attend community planning meetings, recruited volunteers to help prepare the site, and convinced local growers to participate. Booth also traveled to other counties to see what he could learn from similar programs and bring back to Beaufort County.
The Washington City Market now hosts a bustling market full of local growers and residents every Saturday and also works to match restaurants in the region with local growers’ products.
“If a restaurant needs 500 pounds of kale…we can find five growers who can work together to each put in 100 pounds. This market invests in partnership,” said Booth.
In addition to providing critical access to healthy food, the Washington City Market’s pavilion has become a civic gathering place. The Salvation Army hosts a Fish Fry at the pavilion each Friday, community members take turns hosting potlucks each Sunday and the facility is even used for “Meet the Candidates” nights during election season.
“The more awareness we can create, the more we can educate the community on healthy eating and even voting—we’ll keep growing. Good things are happening,” said Booth.
Meeting people where they are
Reverend Jim Reed, a Methodist pastor who serves Asbury United Methodist Church, is another of the county’s residents dedicated to making great strides in improving Beaufort County health by tackling barriers to healthy eating. Currently one in three residents of the county is obese.
Reed got his church involved with the local school system after learning about the number of students who depend upon free lunches at school and are impacted by the lapse in school lunch service when school closes for the summer. Reed worked diligently with other community members to create a sustainable, impactful mobile program by setting up “tarp camps” in local trailer parks for 9 weeks each summer to transport nutritious meals to the students in need. In just three years, Reed and other volunteers have built up the program from one to six camps in order to serve a greater number of students.
The Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Collaborative
Both Reed and Booth are a part of the Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Collaborative of Beaufort County. The HEAL Collaborative brings together Beaufort County Schools with Beaufort County Community College, Eagle’s Wings Food Pantry, Resourceful Communities, Beaufort County Public Health Department, People for a Better Aurora, along with other community partners to improve the health of county residents. The organization recently became an accredited food council and plans to connect parks, playgrounds, clinics and farm stands, while expanding walking and biking infrastructure, summer lunch programs, and more.
“It’s important to be part of something greater, especially when our service can provide farm to table food options in households throughout the community,” said Reed.