Seniors learn secrets of health and long life from Farmers’ Market

By Earnest McBride

Jackson Advocate Contributing Editor

If the senior citizens of the greater Jackson community are seeking the way to a healthful and optimally carefree journey for their later years, Beneta Burt thinks the Jackson Roadmap to Health Equity Project (JRHEP) will likely show them how to get there. As the chair and executive director of the fast expanding Roadmap to Health program that stresses healthy food and a good physical exercise for young and old alike, Burt recently conducted the annual Senior’s Day forum at the new Jackson Farmer’s Market located in the former New Deal Market on Livingston Road adjacent to the Jackson Medical Mall. It is in the same building as the JRHEP Fitness Center. Seniors were introduced to the various discounts available to them if they buy their fresh fruit and vegetables through the Farmer’s Market under Burt’s direction. They are also able to phone in their grocery orders and have them delivered for pickup at a senior citizens center in their own neighborhood.

Senior Day at Market

“Although this meeting at Farmer’s Market is a once-a-year affair, we are available for more events of this kind if the seniors and their advocates from various community agencies request it,” Burt said. “The discounts and services for seniors continue on a weekly basis year-round. The annual Senior Day at Farmers’ Market is an opportunity for people from all neighborhoods and senior centers to come and shop directly and see the wide variety of fresh vegetables that we have available for them.” The Farmer’s Market is open Tuesday and Friday 10 AM until 6 PM., and Saturday’s from 8 AM until 3:30 PM. The Fitness Center Hours are Monday thru Friday from 8 AM until 8 PM. Seniors are able to place grocery orders on Monday or Thursday from their local senior centers. The orders are prepared and delivered to the center on Tuesday and Friday for pickup by the seniors.

Growing Gardens

The Roadmap to Health program also places great emphasis on growing and consuming garden-fresh vegetables free of many of the toxins used in the commercial world of food production. Burt and her associates at JRHEP have developed a variety of promising activities designed to ensure good health as seniors travel down the highway of longevity. Among these are a botanical garden grown from donated sprouts from perennial plants and a garden variety of wholesome vegetables, many of which can be eaten with minimum cooking. The Roadmap to Health also worked with mothers enrolled in the WIC (Women and Infant Children) nutrition program, offering cooking lessons and emphasizing the consumption of fresh vegetables for both mothers and young children. Burt said the Farmers Market and the community garden project now under way at the location on Livingston Road grew out of an original plan to develop a fitness center to improve the physical condition of food service workers employed by the Jackson Public School system. The project received initial funding through a grant from the Kellogg Foundation in 2005.

Okinawa diet best for long life

A brief glance at health and longevity around the world shows that the nations with the longest life expectancy are characterized by ample physical activity and diets in later years that consist of more vegetables and less meat than those nations with shorter life expectancies. In Okinawa, Japan, for instance, life expectancy is the greatest in the world, with the island natives outliving their Western counterparts by more than 10 years, according to a recent study by MediResource Inc. of Canada. “Historically, Okinawans’ death rates from diseases like heart disease, cancer, and stroke are lower and their life spans are longer, when compared to other Japanese. And on average, they enjoy a decade more of disability-free living than their Western counterparts. So, they’ve been not only living longer, they’ve been living better for longer.“ Less salt, fats and sugar are key features of the Okinawa diet. But the most intriguing principle is that of “hara hachi-bu,” which means in English, “eat until you’re 80% full.” “This is a definite departure from the Western super-sized, all-you-can-eat approach to food,” the report says. “This longevity,” the Canadian study concludes, “was attributed to the high content of vegetables and low meat content in the diets—an 11% (calorie) reduction common among Okinawans. Still, research shows that this modest reduction results in a life span about 20% longer than average American life spans.”

Food Corps Comes to Jackson

Having located the fitness center in the building once occupied by New Deal Market, Burt saw many possibilities for using the half of the building not needed for the fitness center. First came a cooperative offering a select number of food items for sale at discount prices. Soon after that project was established, Burt envisioned the development of a full-blown farmers market. Then came the idea of a botanical garden outside that would serve as a source of flowers and fresh food to be sold at the market. “We found this to be a big help toward the sustainability of our produce market,” Burt said. “We are able to grow many of the products that we will sell in the market.” The idea for a botanical garden idea also serves an esthetic purpose, she says. Beautiful flowers grown along the side of the large building will add to its appeal as a site to visit. Plus, members of the fitness club as well as regular market customers will be able to grow plant “plugs” as a possible source of income. Customers can pay only pennies for the plants barely beyond the seedling stage in January and take them home and nurture them until May. These nearly full-grown plants can then be sold at many multiples of their original value, Burt said. Looking forward to another great opportunity for “growing green,” the Roadmap to Health Project will be the Mississippi host site for the Food Corps Program, a food-growing project modeled after the Americorps service group. Ten states are scheduled to participate in the program that will also receive funding from several major philanthropic organizations, including the Kellogg Foundation. Fifty well-trained young people will be assigned to carry out the Food Corps mission. Jackson is the sole Mississippi site participating in the Food Corps program. The Farmer’s Market will have four of these trained young adults working full time in food-growing projects, including home and community gardens, nutrition studies, marketing surplus garden items. Jackson will be one of the 41 communities that will experience a nutritional education program make-over. And a Farm-to-School Program will place many of the garden products on the menus of local school cafeterias.