Edgecombe Community College officials are trying to make sure that students, staff members and the local community have better access to fresh fruits and vegetables by offering a farmers market on their college campuses during alternate weeks this summer.

Though the college is hoping to attract more Edgecombe County farmers to the farmers market, for now most of the fruits and vegetables are supplied by the Conetoe Family Life Center. For the remainder of the summer, the farmers market will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on July 23 and Aug. 20 on the Rocky Mount campus of the college. It will be offered from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on July 30 and Aug. 27 on the Tarboro campus.

A unique feature of this farmers market is the voucher program that allows qualifying students to receive a free box of fruits and vegetables with a value of about $22. The box includes a variety of about eight vegetables and fruits, depending on what is being harvested, said Tessa Weisenborn, a success coach at Edgecombe Community College who is one of the organizers of the program.

Any currently enrolled student in a degree, diploma or certificate program is eligible to receive a voucher and they are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis through the college’s Single Stop office. Vouchers are funded by the college and roughly 30 students have benefitted from the program so far, Weisenborn said.

Ketenaja Glover, a student at Edgecombe Community College studying early childhood education, was at the college on Tuesday picking up a box of fresh fruits and veggies. She said she appreciates the vouchers offered by the college.

“I like fruits and vegetables and it is good to be able to get some fresh ones,” she said.

Danautica Massenburg, who also is studying early childhood education at the college, was at the farmers market on Tuesday with her 2-year-old daughter Au’Bria. Massenburg said she feels that the program helps meet a need.

“People go through different troubles and circumstances and it is sometimes hard for them to be able to pay for good, ripe, fresh vegetables,” she said.

ECC President Gregory McLeod also was on hand Tuesday watching the operations of the farmers market. He said the program is just one of several the college is experimenting with to help better meet the needs of students and the community.

“Edgecombe County has the highest percentage of food insecurity of any county in the state,” McLeod said. “Here, that percentage is 26 percent. And the issues in the county are reflected in the lives of our students.”

McLeod said he feels that access to proper nutrition is important for academic success.

“If we are going to meet their academic needs, we must try to address their physical needs,” McLeod said. “It is there in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If someone is sitting in a classroom hungry, how much learning can really take place?”

McLeod said he serves on the national Commission for Student Success and has been learning about different ways that colleges try to meet the needs of students on campus. The methods of meeting food needs differ depending on the circumstances, McLeod said.

“In urban areas, colleges are sometimes partnering with restaurants and food trucks to meet these needs. Since we are in a rural setting, we wanted to connect with the farming community in our area,” McLeod said.

The college has been trying to improve nutrition on campus in other ways as well, McLeod said. After noting from a student survey that students wanted to have hot food options available on campus, the college worked out a partnership with the Six Smokin’ Bones food truck operation to offer hot food options during the school year.

According to a press release from the college, Six Smokin’ Bones serves breakfast and lunch on the Tarboro campus from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. The Six Smokin’ Bones food truck operates from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays at 326 Hill St., which is a block from the college’s Rocky Mount campus.

The college is exploring more ways to address the issue in the future, McLeod said.