The following is a news release from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry:
Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain, D.V.M., said the grand opening of a farmers market in downtown Oberlin April 13 was the first step to ensure that residents of the Allen Parish town will have locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables available for consumption.
"When I first heard that 'food deserts' exist in Louisiana, I couldn't believe it," Strain said. "There are areas across our state where you cannot get fresh fruits, fresh vegetables or other fresh food. Food deserts exist in rural areas like Oberlin and in parts of New Orleans.
"At the turn of the century we had farmers markets everywhere and everyone had their own gardens. We have to get back to the basics and farmers markets are a vital part of providing good nutrition."
Strain lauded the efforts of the Oberlin farmers market organizer, Brenda Byrd.
"It takes a lot of hard work to put a market together," Strain said. "There is wealth in the land of rural America and the farmers market."
Byrd said Oberlin became a food desert because parish residents' spending habits shifted over the years.
"My mom and dad had a grocery store in Oberlin and they grew a lot of the produce they sold in the store," Byrd said. "Everyone grew their own garden and sold their extra produce. At one time Oberlin supported several grocery stores but things changed."
Today, the town does not have a single grocery store that sells fresh produce on a regular basis, Byrd said.
"You and I had something to do with that," Byrd said. "We started using our shopping dollars in other communities and it took its toll on Oberlin. The town has become a food desert. We're hoping our farmers market will start the reversal of that trend. We want to see some fresh produce coming back here and we encourage local gardening."
Byrd said the Oberlin Farmers Market accepts food stamps. The market will also redeem the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program coupons when they are issued by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry and United States Department of Agriculture.
The Oberlin Farmers Market, 228 W. 6th Avenue, Allen Parish, is open Wednesdays from 9 a.m. through 1 p.m. and features a variety of in-season fruits and vegetables from local growers. Local vendors are needed, Byrd said.
For more information about the Oberlin Farmers Market, call Brenda Byrd at 318-452-5720 or 337-977-1999.