Fresh at the Avenue Market is located inside of the Avenue Market at 1640 Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore. (Courtesy Photo)

By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,

No Boundaries Coalition’s Fresh at the Avenue, in its seventh year of operation, is continuing strong with its core mission of addressing the food deserts of Baltimore and providing fresh fruits and vegetables to the community.

On Feb. 25, a kale cook off and live cooking demonstrations from community members will be conducted at the historic Avenue Market. In addition, there will be an African drum making workshop.

“It’s remarkable, just from the daily conversations we have, we’re really beloved down there. I can’t express it enough,” said Reynard Parks, marketing manager at Fresh at the Avenue. 

“They love the fact that we have fresh food. They love the fact that they don’t have to walk too far. The statement they say to us all the time is, ‘Promise you’re not going to leave, we really need you guys.’” 

No Boundaries Coalition originated in the 21217 zip code. The goal was to remedy challenging situations in the area and unite the neighborhoods of Sandtown, Druid Heights, Upton, Madison Park, Penn North, Reservoir Hill and Bolton Hill through dining, Parks said.

In 2017, when No Boundaries Coalition researchers looked at where residents in the 21217 zip code could buy alcohol compared with where they could buy fresh produce, the results were not favor, Parks said.

“Essentially, what they found was that once they started to do research, there were more liquor stores in the actual area than there were places to get fresh fruits and vegetables– or markets in general,” said Parks. “Since that research was done, two of those [food] markets have closed, so now only one is still open. Within a mile from where we are, there’s only one market and there’s not another one for another five to 10 miles. That’s pretty extreme.” 

The Mount Clare Junction Price Rite closed last month, and a small, international market shut its doors too. A Save A Lot is the only grocery store that remains, and Park said it does not have a sufficient selection of fresh produce. 

Mayor Brandon Scott said the city is taking a two-pronged approach to tackle food deserts that plague areas, like Central West Baltimore. 

Baltimore already offers incentives to grocery stores that open in neighborhoods with poor access to fruits, vegetables and other fresh food. But, the city is also providing funding to the Black Butterfly Urban Farmer Academy and the Farm Alliance of Baltimore so fruits and vegetables can be grown locally and made available to residents who live in food deserts. 

No Boundaries Coalition’s Fresh at the Avenue market gets a large portion of its fruit and vegetables from local farmers and community gardens. (Photo by Facebook/Fresh at the Avenue)

“We’re talking to grocery stores about how we can get them back into some of our neighborhoods and what kind of incentives they need consistently, but we can’t just rely on them,” said Scott. “We have to also build up the infrastructure of how we can, as a city, support folks who are in those neighborhoods doing the farming and make sure people are taking advantage of the resources.” 

Fresh at the Avenue gets fruits and vegetables from local farmers and community gardens. But, if they are too expensive or unavailable, they look to producers throughout the Washington Metropolitan area. 

Parks said customers often request pomegranates and dragonfruit, which Fresh at the Avenue gets from the Caribbean. 

Fresh at the Avenue has also recently hired a group of youth in the neighborhood there. After just a few weeks, Parks said, there’s a noticeable difference in the children’s attitudes and focus. 

In March, Fresh at the Avenue will resume Meatless Mondays. On the first Monday of each month, patrons will be taught how to consume meatless meals, featuring carrot dogs and plant-based burgers, that are nutritious without sacrificing flavor. 

Individuals lead cooking demonstrations and provide products focused around health and wellness. 

For him, Parks said the best thing offered by Fresh at the Avenue offers is education.

“A lot of people come to our store, and they’re not just getting their fruits and vegetables. They’re talking with people who are pretty educated in the proper vitamins that they should be eating if there are specific ailments that they’re looking to address,” said Parks. 

“We don’t prescribe to healing anybody, but we at least know the information to point you in the right direction, and people feel confident with us.”

In addition to fresh fruits and vegetables, the market also gives away free literacy materials for all ages on Fridays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. 

Megan Sayles is a Report for America corps member. 

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