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More farmers markets allowed in Asheville

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1/19/2012 - More farmers markets allowed in Asheville
by Joel Burgess - Asheville Citizen Times

ASHEVILLE -- In an effort to give low-income residents more access to fresh food, the city is allowing farmers markets in more places and could soon cut even more restrictions on where growers can sell vegetables and homemade goods.

Voting unanimously Tuesday, the City Council said tailgate markets should be allowed in residentially-zoned areas, areas where they previously been prohibited.

Market supporters said the move would help residents who don't have cars and have a hard time getting to grocery stores.

"Grocery stores are getting bigger and bigger and the trend is for fresh foods to get more and more centralized," said Peter Marks who helps support farmer's markets through the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project.

"There are a significant number of people below a certain income who live a mile from the closest grocery store."

Places like senior centers would be ideal sites, he said.

Other places markets are allowed following Tuesday's vote include churches and schools in residential areas. The markets have to sell mostly food, such as produce, otherwise they could be considered flea markets.

Hours are limited to 8 a.m.-8 p.m. To reduce parking problems, they are also restricted to times the host institutions are not operating.

But the council said it might make sense to loosen that restriction and instructed city staff to come back with suggestions on ways to do that.

"We don't want to displace all that parking and put that parking on the street," Assistant Planning Director Shannon Tuch said. "But if part of what we are trying to accomplish is connecting people to healthy fresh foods then we kind of want to take advantage of them overlapping."

Current market locations include UNC Asheville, the French Broad Food Co-op downtown, the Chamber of Commerce in Montford, South Charlotte Street, Haywood Road in West Asheville and Biltmore Park in South Asheville.

A church in east Asheville was having a farmers market which zoning rules did not allow, but city staff found out too late in the season to do anything about it, Tuch said.

Host institutions such as churches and schools were already allowed to hold fund-raising events, such as carnivals and yard sales.

Even with the expansion of markets, the issue of affordability can still be daunting with some of the prices above what poorer residents feel they can pay, said Marks.

To help with that, some locations such as The City Market on South Charlotte have been taking food stamps, said ASAP's local food campaign coordinator.

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