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Record-Breaking Crowd at Columbus Health Department Farmers' Market

A record number of people turned out Thursday for the first of the city health department's farmers' markets this year.

City Health officials use the markets to promote fruits and vegetables to residents whose access to fresh produce is limited by income or by where they live. And the three hour event drew thousands.

Participants in the Women, Infants and Children assistance program, WIC, received a coupon booklet worth $15 to use at any of the 18 stands set up by Ohio farmers across the front drive of the city health department's campus at the corner of Parsons Avenue and Main Street.

Renee McLaurin's daughter is in the WIC program, but she is at work. So McLaurin is standing in, waiting patiently in line to shop for her four-year-old grandson.

I would like to find some fresh okra, if possible, she says. Actually, my grandson loves it.

McLaurin says the price of gasoline is one reason she is trying to cut back on food costs.

Jerry Farber of Dolan's Farm Market in New Albany says farmers are trying to hold down fuel costs by using ATV's in place of tractors when possible on the farm. Nevertheless, some prices on their produce are edging upward. He says last year, a dozen ears of corn was $4.95 cents.

This year we're up to $5.25, says Farber. That's up 30 cents. That's not bad. We've tried to hold the cost down. We might be paying a little bit for it. But we have very loyal customers, and that pays off.

Jim and Sharon Patterson are selling their organically grown corn at $6 for 14 ears. It's priced to accommodate the five, $3 coupons carried by WIC participants.

And we try to keep our prices comparable to conventional farms, says Sharon Patterson, so people can afford to still eat healthy and enjoy good food.

Eating healthy is the message behind this event, and the turn-out far exceeded last year. In 2007, all three farmers markets done by the city health department drew a total of 5-thousand people.

This year, underscoring the pressure families are under with high prices for food and fuel, 3500 people came for the first market. Half of them were part of the Women, Infants and Children assistance program.