Fresh produce is available on Oakwood University's Mobile Market, which opened on Feb. 2, 2021. Photo provided by Oakwood University
United States | Lisa Dalrymple

Oakwood University’s campus-wide health initiative, Healthy Campus 2020®, marked its 5-year anniversary in 2020. As part of Vision 2020, envisioned by Leslie N. Pollard, university president, and whose vision came to life through the work of Prudence LaBeach Pollard, vice president of quality assurance, research, and faculty development, Healthy Campus 2020® achieved its primary goal of making Oakwood University the healthiest campus in America.

This accomplishment was marked by receipt of the 2018 Crystal Apple Award bestowed by our partner, Partnership for a Healthier America®. Over the past five years, Oakwood has worked to transform its campus into a healthier environment for students, employees, and visitors, using a three-prong approach which addresses nutrition, physical activity, and campus programs. With phase 1 completed and now in its maintenance and sustainability stage, Oakwood is looking toward phase 2, Healthy Campus, Healthy Community®, where the university intends to promote health beyond its campus and address the needs of community members—one neighborhood at a time.

As part of the phase 2 initiative, Oakwood University’s long-awaited Mobile Market was officially launched on Feb. 2, 2021. This initiative is part of an effort to address food insecurity faced by many residents of North Alabama residing in food deserts, and to combat diet-related health disparities and co-morbidities that plague so many residents in the deep South, particularly in Northwest Huntsville communities.

Through a grant funded by the State of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA), the initiative "Health in the Deep South: An Effort to Combat Health Disparities and Food Deserts in the Deep South," is designed to take fresh fruits, vegetables, and health education to underserved communities of the deep south via a state-of-the-art, customized, traveling Mobile Market and Health Education unit.

“The Mobile Market is a creative and innovative concept for transporting healthy foods for the expansion of choices,” explains a Healthy Campus 2020® representative, “and for accessibility to fresh food while addressing food insecurity, which has been exacerbated by the current pandemic.”

The Local Need

North Alabama consists of Huntsville City, Madison, Morgan, and Limestone Counties. Huntsville is a city located in Madison County and extends west into neighboring Limestone County and south into Morgan County. Huntsville’s population is 200,574, according to the 2019 United States Census Bureau. The average income for Huntsville residents is $35,634 per year, and approximately 16.8 percent of the adult population lives below the federal poverty line. The goal of the Mobile Market is to serve low/fixed-income residents and senior citizens by ensuring prices are affordable and optimizing opportunities for residents who receive public assistance to purchase healthy foods provided by the Mobile Market.

On Feb. 2, the fully-equipped traveling Mobile Market officially launched in North Huntsville, aimed at safely delivering affordable, fresh, pesticide-free, locally grown produce for all on a biweekly schedule. 

“We have successfully partnered with local stakeholders to optimize the success of our community health initiative,” says the Oakwood Healthy Campus 2020® representative. Thus far, we have partnered with the offices of Community Action Partnership® of Huntsville, Madison & Limestone Counties, Inc., the American Heart Association®, and the Huntsville Housing Authority. We look forward to expanding our efforts to build partnerships for the continued success of our program and the opportunities that are ahead.”

It is through Oakwood’s community initiative that the following outcomes are now being achieved: 1) providing health and nutrition education; and 2) providing access to healthy, affordable foods to several identified food deserts and underserved communities.

Behind the Mobile Market

The mobile market is an extension of Oakwood University’s Community Health Action Center and Clinic (CHAC), the latest physical community structure that is under construction and scheduled for completion in late Spring 2021. This facility will be the site of many community engagements and activities that will address community needs from health, wellness, and nutrition to tutoring and fall prevention. The CHAC will allow for continuous efforts to meet the many challenges and health needs facing our communities. Completion of the CHAC will serve dual purposes including a site for the training of our HC2020® student health ambassadors and providing resources to our communities.

Oakwood students are an integral part of Oakwood University’s mission and standing legacy. Student health ambassadors are trained in Oakwood’s eight principles of health, STANDOUT®, and will be equipped to provide service locally, nationally, and internationally. Health ambassadors will take the lead in providing nutrition awareness and health education to community residents and members as part of their service-learning activities with the Mobile Market. Students will engage in promoting the consumption of healthy foods through healthy cooking demonstrations, healthy recipe distribution, and providing resources and education on how to live a healthier life.

Health ambassadors will also conduct educational supermarket health tours for interested community residents. This is intended to 1) assist in informing the most effective way to shop for healthy foods, and 2) inform on how to choose foods that will provide the most nutrients and benefits to their daily diet. Residents will become more familiar with healthier choices available for purchase in their local grocery stores and at the Mobile Market.

This article was originally published on the North American Division’s news site