Camden Area Health Education Center (AHEC)
Camden, New Jersey
Camden Area Health Education Center (AHEC) operates a network of farmers markets in the distressed city of Camden, serving the needs of low-income customers and communities with a special focus on advancing public health. The network’s goal is to create awareness of the role that the markets play in improving public health while contributing to the revitalization of Camden. The network, which started with just one farm stand, has grown to four farmers markets spread throughout the city operating in parks, outside hospitals and at transit stops.
To address the city’s troubling health issues the market network not only provides access to fresh produce, but also serves as a temporary health clinic for its customers. Every market day local community health groups table alongside farmers and vendors, sharing health and nutrition information and education. Some of the health organizations even screen customers for diseases, such as high blood pressure. The success of these groups has made the markets popular places to reach out to Camden residents and the network now has a waiting list of health groups interested in tabling at the market.
To better connect to Camden youth, the network started the Junior Chef’s Program; eight two-hour interactive classes held at a summer camp. The program, held in partnership with Rutgers Cooperative Extension, consists of nutrition and exercise lessons, cooking classes and field trips to a farmers market, family-owned farm, community garden and a supermarket.
By connecting the ability to purchase fresh, healthy food from regional farmers with nutrition and health advocacy and information from city health organizations the market network has created a dynamic public gathering space for Camden residents to feel safe and enjoy time together.