NILES — Projects to help people eat better and get more exercise are springing up all over Berrien County, the Board of Health heard Wednesday.
Board members, meeting at the Niles courthouse, received a report from Jessica Schaeffer, coordinator for the health department’s 4x4 grant to reduce obesity through healthier eating and exercise.
One of the county’s perennial projects that keeps branching out is the Benton Harbor Farmers Market, now open from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesdays in Dwight Mitchell Park, through Sept. 18.
The market has 15 vendors selling everything from organically grown vegetables to fresh meats to gourmet cupcakes, Schaeffer said. The location also has five informational booths on health care, social services and other topics.
Many of those vendors are operating under a brick pavilion constructed by the city of Benton Harbor with community block grant and other funding.
“I love it,” said Phyllis Taylor, owner of Something Sweet Catering and Bake Shop, who has been selling her goodies at the Benton Harbor market for three years.
The market is slowly picking up more vendors and customers, Taylor said, and she encouraged people to “come downtown and support the local market.”
Organizers plan to have banners along Main Street urging residents to “Eat Local, Live Local, Shop Local,” Schaeffer told the health board.
Kids games and crafts, cooking demonstrations and YMCA fitness activities will be offered each week. The Citadel Music School will set up an instrument petting zoo for kids July 31 and Aug. 2, and 4-H activities will be held July 17 and 31, and Aug. 7 and 28.
Other special activities include Senior Project Fresh discount coupon giveaways July 10, and a Youth Day Scavenger Hunt Aug. 7.
Customers can purchase items with their WIC or Senior Project Fresh coupons, and food assistance Bridge cards are accepted. Card holders can obtain Double Up Food Bucks, with an extra $2 provided for fruits and vegetables for every $2 spent.
The Benton Harbor market and other efforts are part of a statewide grant program that began in 2014. Berrien County has been awarded a five-year grant for the current cycle.
Be Healthy Berrien will be focusing on promoting healthy eating and physical activity in Niles, particularly for women ages 18 to 35. Efforts will include concentrating on work sites at Lake Michigan College’s Bertrand campus and the NSG Pilkington glass plant to offer food service guidelines to provide more fruits, vegetables and whole grain products.
The Stop.Think.Go campaign will encourage people to consumer fewer sugary drinks, substituting water or low-calorie beverages.
Organizers will be working with planners and property owners to extend the Indiana-Michigan River Trail nine miles from Niles to Berrien Springs. The 34-mile trail now runs from Niles to Mishawaka, Ind.
They also are partnering with the Niles History Center to create a historical site bicycle route, with 10 to 15 stops with markers highlighting the past of the community. In the second year they would like to include benches, bike racks and historical markers, Schaeffer said.
Another objective is to work with Niles Dial a Ride to extend service into Cass County and the Eastgate Medical Center.
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak