Photo above: A youth volunteer with the Greenfield Walking Group distributes fresh melons to the attendees.
Maria Ramirez was concerned for her safety when heading to the Lamont farmers market earlier this month, since President Trump announced Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids were to begin taking place just a few days after.
Despite her fear, she went to provide for her family.
“Yes, it scares me sometimes and makes me not want to come out of my home, but I have to go to work despite my fear,” Ramirez said in Spanish. “I have to take care of my family.”
More than 340 families – nearly 1,600 people — showed up in the 100-degree weather for the free farmers market, put on my Community Action Partnership of Kern, the Kern County Library and Building Healthy Communities.
The Free Produce Farmers Markets are hosted throughout Kern County every month to provide families and children with healthy options.
The chronic illnesses that food insecure people face can be combated by eating healthier and having access to fresh food, said Maureen Andrew, a CAPK staffer who helps coordinate the free farmers markets.
“Lamont is high with food insecure people,” said Andrew. “A lot of people can’t afford fruits and vegetables, which is why we come together to bring this to our local communities.”
The events first began five years ago in South Kern. The organizations have since held events in Wasco, Delano, Bakersfield and now Lamont.
“A lot of people don’t have the money to purchase fresh food,” Andrew said. “They will pay bills and buy food that lasts longer. That’s the reason why we started this – to help people have healthier diets.”
People living in Lamont and its surrounding communities have less access to healthy foods, according to data.
The nearly 100,000 people who live in Southeast Kern face the greatest challenges countywide when it comes to food insecurity, according to the Healthy Kern socioeconomic needs index, which measures data across the county.
Food insecurity, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is defined as a limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods or uncertain ability to acquire these foods in socially acceptable ways.
Research shows one in four Americans worry about having enough money to put food on the table, the Food and Research Action Center found in a survey.
Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties are the poorest counties in California, according to Andrew, with many residents struggling with food insecurity.
“(Bakersfield) is one of the top five poorest cities in the nation, which is where we grow the produce to feed the entire world,” Andrew said.
Just over 13 percent of residents in Kern County face food insecurity needs, according to Healthy Kern County.
With the recent accouchements of ICE raids from the Trump Administration, Ramirez was surprised by the large turnout.
“I get on Facebook a lot and I always see people posting and talking about ICE being in our community,” Ramirez said. “Luckily two of my four children are already in their twenties and are always making sure me and my husband are good and informed about what is happening, what to believe, and what we should know.”
“Even though we don’t know much English, our children often inform us about what we should do.”
Andrew said although there is a fear factor with the recent threats of ICE raids, the turnout has remained the same due to the longevity of the event and the trust the organization has built with the community.
Lizbeth Garcia and her mom have been attending the farmers market since they started in Lamont.
“My mom is a single mother who works very hard to provide for me and my siblings, so these farmers market are a huge help for us and the Lamont community,” Garcia said. “Here in Lamont, we don’t have the most resources so any help that we can get is huge to us. We usually get our food from where my mom works, or the local market.”
At the farmers markets, the organizations introduce new fresh foods to the residents and educates them on the produce. They also give out recipes that include the produce.
“We are trying to get people to eat healthier,” Andrew said.
CAPK is holding another free farmers market next month from 8-10 a.m. on Aug. 8 in Greenfield at the Christian Liberty Center.
South Kern Sol is a youth-led journalism organization in Kern County. In their stories, reporters shine light on health and racial disparities in under-served communities across Kern. For more stories by South Kern Sol, head to southkernsol.org.