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‘All are fed’: Common Ground delivers fresh produce to food deserts

common ground - laughing.jpg
Suzanne Perez
Donna Pearson McClish, left, and Keisha Couts greet customers at a Common Ground mobile market in Haysville.

The mobile farmers' market delivers fruits and vegetables to areas in and around Wichita where fresh produce is hard to find.

When the van from Common Ground Producers and Growers rolls up, people get in line.

Donna Pearson McClish and her crew run a mobile market aimed at delivering fruits and vegetables to areas in and around Wichita where fresh produce is hard to find. They target neighborhoods or senior housing complexes — about 30 locations — where residents have limited access to healthy foods.

“We have onions, leeks, Napa cabbage, spinach,” Pearson McClish said, pointing to foods piled onto tables outside Peachtree Plaza Tower, a low-income senior living apartment building in Haysville.

Randy and Keisha Couts helped unload the van and greeted the first line of customers. Some used walkers or wheelchairs.

“A lot of these people … really have no way to get to the Dillons,” Randy Couts said. “They don’t have transportation, or they’re physically unable to make that journey on their own.”

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Suzanne Perez
Common Ground Producers and Growers delivers fruits and vegetables to areas in and around Wichita where fresh produce is hard to find.

People 60 or older who meet certain federal income guidelines can apply for food vouchers through the U.S. Department of Agriculture — the Common Ground team guides them through the process — and can use the vouchers to buy fresh produce.

About 100,000 Wichita-area residents live in a food desert, and more than two-thirds said in a recent survey that the city should find ways to help people find and afford healthy food.

Common Ground’s motto, like its mission, answers that call: “All are fed. No one is hungry.”

“Sometimes you just have to say, ‘What would it look like if I did it differently? What would it look like if I actively got involved in trying to make a difference?” Randy Couts said.

“Everything that we produce and sell, it’s all from local farmers and gardeners here in Sedgwick County who have a desire to feed people.”

Jerry Brewer used his vouchers recently to buy a small watermelon and several vine-ripened tomatoes. Then he eyed something else on the table.

“Those are collard greens,” Keisha Couts explained.

“I’ve never had them before,” Brewer said.

“Never? … I put a turkey leg in my collard greens, and that’s just my dinner.”

After about an hour at Peachtree Plaza, the Common Ground crew packed up the van and moved across the street to the Haysville Senior Center, where about a half-dozen people were already in line.

“You can eat healthy and be full,” Randy Couts said. “People come out and spend $10 or $15 on fruits and vegetables and can go make a meal.”

He said he views Common Ground as a mission and a ministry.

“We serve everyone. Even for those who don't have the financial ability to pay, we say, ‘Well, you're a first-time customer, let us let you sample what we have so that you can say … ‘Man, when Common Ground is here, you’ve got to go get something from those guys. It was really good!’

“Because we don’t ever want somebody to walk away saying, ‘Well, they came, but I wasn’t able to eat.’”

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.