Oxford, Mississippi, is known for its regal Greek Revival mansions and the plush magnolia trees that frame its wide roads, but less known is that a high percentage of the town’s residents live below the poverty line and lack access to healthy foods.
Betsy Chapman, market director at the Oxford Community Market, is working to provide healthy food alternatives to low-income families through the farmers market she runs every Tuesday from April until December. More people in Mississippi than any other state face food insecurity, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as limited availability of nutritionally adequate or safe foods. Chapman is focusing her outreach and consumer education on local residents who are experiencing food insecurity. When she is not at the market, she raises awareness about the programs the market provides for residents on government assistance ― particularly the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP benefits, commonly called food stamps.
Founded by the city of Oxford in 2012, the market began through a USDA Famers Market Promotion Grant. Last year, it spun off into an independent nonprofit organization called Oxford Community Market.
HuffPost spoke to Betsy Chapman about Oxford Community Market and how she is addressing food access in Oxford.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Oxford has a high proportion of residents living in food deserts. How does this issue inform the work you do at Oxford Community Market?
We are really investing a lot of time and energy in our SNAP program. This a fairly new concept in this area.
When I’m out talking to people, I’m trying to put myself in communities where there may be a higher rate of food insecurity and inviting them to come. That’s one of the things I’m constantly trying to communicate is that this is a public space for everyone and you don’t have to spend a dime to come and hang out with us.
How does Oxford Community Market work to address the economic barriers that prevent low-income residents from shopping at farmers markets?
Through a partnership with four different organizations ― Baptist Memorial Hospital of North Mississippi, United Way of Oxford and Lafayette County, Move On Up Mississippi and University of Mississippi RebelWell ― we are able to give SNAP shoppers a dollar-for-dollar match up to $10 when they shop at the market. It basically works like a SNAP transaction…