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Healthier Eau Claire: Students pair with city officials to look into year-round farmer’s market

Getting invested and connected to the Eau Claire community isn’t a requirement for graduation, but the city of Eau Claire is teaming up with students from assistant professor David Soll’s Sustainable Cities honors course to help plan three different aspects of the Health Chapter — Eau Claire Comprehensive Plan: Active Living, Food and Nutrition and Land Use.

Between 2000-2002 the Eau Claire City-County Health Department estimates that 55 percent of the county’s population was either overweight at 32 percent or obese, at 23 percent. Eau Claire County recently ranked 56th out of 72 counties in the 2012 County Health Rankings for a quality built environment.

Ned Noel, associate planner for the city of Eau Claire,  said Eau Claire began their sustainability chapter in 2009 and they are now moving on to community health. Noel said the decision to bring students into the project was a way to help students and help the city.

“When I was a student, what really impacted me was real world, hands-on situations that we were not only learning in class about … but actually doing it and working with people in the community,” Noel said. “We try to do that more and more in ways that will be mutually beneficial.”

Noel said because of limited budgets and staff, the students have a lot of free range with the direction they want to take the projects.

The primary focus for the Food and Nutrition section is producing a yearlong farmers market in Eau Claire. Currently, there are two summer markets. One market runs June through October at the Oakwood Mall parking lot. The second market is located in Phoenix Park.

Once a month, a smaller market is held indoors from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the L.E. Phillips Senior Center, according to ecdowntownfarmersmarket.com.

The idea for a year-round farmers market stems from the idea of supplying the citizens of Eau Claire and the surrounding communities a place where they can purchase local, healthy food as well as providing a meeting place.

Three students are working on gathering and supplying information about the potential for a yearlong farmers market — Sophomore Heather Spray, Sophomore Andrew Bocher and Freshman Allison Fouks.

Spray said the main focus of their work on the project is gathering interest from the community and figuring out how to supply the market.

“We’re looking a lot at what needs the farmers market can meet within the community,” Spray said.

Noel said the market would be incorporated into a future re-development of an area in the north side near Madison Street.

Aside from local citizens selling their food, the students and Noel are hoping to include cooking classes, canning instructions, restaurant testing and other crafts into the community.

Originally from Madison, Spray said she loves the summer farmers market in Madison and wants to bring the same environment to Eau Claire year round.

Right now the plan is just in its theoretical phases. For Noel, the class project does some busy work that the city doesn’t have time for because of budget cuts and no extra hands. For Soll’s class, it gives the students a real experience in planning an event.

“Students get a sense of — not to temper their idealism but to get them to see that just having an idea isn’t enough,” Soll said. “That you have to figure out what it takes to make it come to fruition.”

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