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Despite Farmers Market Success, Some Struggle To Eat Healthy In City Heights

Above: Latonya Frazier, a mother of two on a fixed income, didn’t know she could double her Women, Infant and Children (WIC) vouchers at the farmers market until being contacted for this story.

A program in City Heights has gained national recognition for bringing fresh fruits and vegetables to families in low-income, urban areas.

First Lady Michelle Obama toured the New Roots Community Farm there in 2010 as part of her campaign to end childhood obesity. This month, The New York Times followed refugee shoppers through the community’s vibrant farmers market, where organic produce is affordable thanks to innovative subsidy programs.

Special Feature Speak City Heights

Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)

But getting good food on the table isn’t always idyllic in City Heights. Not everyone knows about programs that put healthy foods within reach of low-income families.

Latonya Frazier, a mother of two on a fixed income, didn’t know she could double her Women, Infant and Children (WIC) vouchers at the farmers market until being contacted for this story.

“When I went and signed up for the WIC program, they don’t tell you anything about farmers markets at all,” Frazier said.

So a few times a month, Frazier and her 7-year-old daughter, Glone, walk through their hilly Colina Park neighborhood to catch a bus to the nearby Food-4-Less. They try to fill their basket with healthy foods, but struggle to afford lean meats and the herbs and spices that kick up the flavor of low-calorie meals.

But for them, City Heights’ food landscape is a bit murkier than the outdoor market and community gardens that have caught on among refugees in the neighborhood. Shopping trips to liquor and convenience stores have been as common as visits to grocery produce aisles, Frazier said. The Louisiana-born mom said good nutritional habits don’t come as easily to her as for refugees accustomed to eating off the land.

Frazier is getting help from the Network for a Healthy California, a statewide nonprofit working to help African-Americans like her lead healthier lifestyles.
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Above: Frazier is getting help from the Network for a Healthy California, a statewide nonprofit working to help African-Americans like her lead healthier lifestyles.

“Both of my parents worked, so they were always gone when we’d go to school and always still gone when we’d come home from school,” Frazier said.

“So we kind of had to fend for ourselves, and the only thing that was really in there was just the quick, microwave food. This (proper nutrition) is kind of something that I’ve got to learn new on my own,” she said.

But Frazier is getting help from the Network for a Healthy California, a statewide nonprofit working to help African-Americans like her lead healthier lifestyles. It partners with grocery stores to market nutritious recipes to black shoppers, about 70 percent of whom are overweight, according to Lakeysha Sowunmi (CQ) of the network.

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Eat Right When Money's Tight

Eat Right When Money's Tight

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Their recipe cards can be found throughout the Food-4-Less and Albertson’s in City Heights. Occasionally, network representatives set up cooking demonstrations and hand out cookbooks featuring leaner takes on soul food.

“Some of the traditional foods are fatty, salty and have a lot of calories,” Sowunmi said. “We actually have those same soul-food recipes, but it has healthier alternatives to it.”

Frazier said she’s looking forward to trying the rice and black-eyed peas recipe, which omits gravy from the traditional Southern meal in favor of seasoning and turkey sausage.

The program is also turning to churches to help spread the message. African-American churches commonly host potlucks with high-calorie, traditional foods—Frazier’s offers fried chicken and cornbread. The network is working with churches in City Heights and Southeast San Diego to instead bring nutritional education, exercise and gardening to worshippers.

The church’s strong footing in the African-American community could help replicate the kind of education provided to refugees by the International Rescue Committee, which manages the community farm and directs refugee residents to the farmers market.

Frazier has become another channel for reaching out to the African-American community. She’s joined the network’s Champions for Change program, which trains her to educate other moms about eating healthy on a budget.

“I think that there’s a challenge to eating healthy, because we have a lot of burger restaurants and things like that,” Frazier said. “It’s challenging, but I think as long as someone can talk to you one-on-one to let you know about the programs, I think it will…change.”

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