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Fighting hunger in Tyler food deserts

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TYLER (KYTX) - The East Texas Community Food Coalition is fighting hunger and obesity one piece of fresh, nutritious food at a time. The areas targeted are called food deserts. There are four of them in Tyler.

Food deserts are considered low-income areas with little to no access to fresh, healthy, affordable food. They are classified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Treasury, and Health and Human Services.

Carmen Sosa mapped out the four food deserts in Tyler.

"A lot of people are just unaware that there is such limited access." she says. 

She's founder of the East Texas Community Food Coalition.

"This is our largest food desert that runs from Gentry Parkway over the East of the Loop and South to 5th Street."

That's where Dona Russell lives.

She says she's not willing to drive across town to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

"I just don't like fighting the traffic to go get a tomato." she says. 

So, she decided to start growing her own tomatoes, and that's not all

"We have cantaloupes, corn, watermelons- mocha's still kind of small. And this, I call my redneck pepper plants in the tires."  

Growing fresh produce saves her a 20 minute trip to grocery stores in South Tyler.

"I'm just not willing." she says. 

Sosa wishes more people would get their hands dirty to grow nutritious foods for their families.

"It's absolutely tied to the trend we're seeing in obesity, and when we're sending our kids off to school with hungry bellies, it impacts their ability to learn."

She also encourages East Texans in food deserts to take advantage of farmer's markets and community gardens.

"You're forced to drive to the other end of town, or you do something else."

Russell chose the latter, and she's enjoying the fruits of her labor every day.

Sosa and those with the East Texas Community Food Coalition also have plans to talk to city leaders about turning unused public spaces into edible spaces, and turning landscaping plants into edible plants.

A new farmer's market is also going to start up on the Downtown Square in Tyler. Sosa says the square serves as the center hub for all four food deserts in Tyler, so it's an ideal location.

The farmer's markets on the square will begin next month. You can buy fresh fruits and vegetables every Thursday night from four to seven. It kicks off August 1st and runs through November.

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