The Growing Influence of Healthy Markets
By Ken Walker-
In my last blog I wrote about Cabell Huntington Hospital taking over the operation of Huntington’s Kitchen, the healthy-cooking-classes initiative that sprang up after Jamie Oliver filmed his ABC mini-series here.
Equally exciting when it comes to such grassroots-driven activity is the Wild Ramp. The healthy foods market opened in downtown Huntington in the summer of 2012 and is going strong more than a year later.
After my wife and I bought our first dozen eggs there, we never wanted to get them anywhere else. They may cost more than a traditional supermarket’s, but they are twice as good.
Equally delicious is the fresh kale, tomatoes and a host of other products. Not everything is organic because not everyone can meet the strict definition of organic. Still, the meat is grass-fed, the chicken free range, the choice of vegetarian options numerous, and the snacks healthy.
Appreciation for Volunteers
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams made an appearance to declare it Beth and Graham Rankin Day in honor of the couple preparing to move to McMinnville, Oregon. I see that McMinnville has had a farmers market since 2001, so they should soon find a new spot to land.
Not only did Beth blog regularly about her visits to farms around the region, she and her husband were pivotal volunteers in the formation and operation of the Wild Ramp.
This volunteer aspect is one of the impressive features of the market, which requires more than 300 hours of volunteer labor a month to keep the doors open.
While some health and scheduling conflicts have limited my activity, I have volunteered there several times in recent months. I rejoice that the 150 people who have helped in some way, shape or form have proved the naysayers (“You’ll never be able to do it”) wrong. It is a sign of a “can do” attitude that makes any community a better place to live.
Boost to the Economy
The Wild Ramp isn’t strictly all-volunteer, since there is one (modestly-paid) employee—Manager Shelly Keeney. Yet there are also 17 shift managers who work without pay. So do the baggers, stock clerks, cashiers and people who make a 90-minute roundtrip drive every week to pick up fresh milk in southern Ohio.
The emphasis is on local food, with everything coming from within a 250-mile radius, as opposed to the hundreds or thousands of miles that traditional supermarket food travels. No wonder it tastes so fresh!
The main beneficiaries of this are farmers in the area, who receive 90 percent of the consignment-based sales. I especially like how products are labeled so customers are aware of their origin and, should they wish to, research the producer further.
Perhaps fittingly, the Volunteer Appreciation Night took place just after the conclusion of National Farmers Market Week.
Until I checked out some information on that celebration, I didn’t realize that this “locavore” movement—which has generated quite a bit of media attention—was gathering such steam. There are now more than 8,100 farmers markets in the USDA’s national directory, an increase of 62 percent over the past five years.
That is the kind of grassroots activity that is needed to push back the ever-present, fatty-laden, unhealthy food purveyed by so much of the modern food industry. It is the kind of presence that is making a dent in Huntington’s obesity problems, and can do the same for the nation.