When it comes to the power of fresh local foods, no one believes more wholeheartedly than Rhonda Hensley. As an AppalachiaCARES/Americorps team member, Rhonda serves as the Mobile Farmers’ Market Manager at Rural Resources in Greeneville, TN. She is the organization’s invaluable ambassador to the wider community, bringing both food and love to the Greene County area and beyond. To hear her speak is to be converted: when she talks about fresh produce, she combines the passion of a great preacher with the humility of someone who has herself been converted. She not only cares about the kind of food she puts into her own body, it also matters deeply to her that others receive the same care.
Aside from working with the Mobile Farmers’ Market, Rhonda also sits on the Food Security Task Force of Greeneville. Greene County is caught up in the food security crisis that affects the greater Appalachian region: one in five families lives below the poverty line, and this affects the overall health of the community. Obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes are prevalent problems, as well as lack of access to healthful foods. In a 2009 survey of low-income families seeking food assistance in Greene County, the Task Force found that 65% of those surveyed always or sometimes run out of food due to cost. Nearly 75% of households were without a consistent and reliable means of transportation. While the desire to eat nourishing local produce exists, there are barriers preventing access to it.
Rhonda sees this as an opportunity. Every Thursday during the growing season she goes out in the Mobile Farmers’ Market—a former school bus made easily recognizable by its coat of barn red paint—and brings seasonal goodies to the folks who want them. She works constantly with growers to streamline the process for them, strengthen their market, and ensure that they realize how integral they are to the system. In March 2012, Rhonda took the efficiency one step further: she created an online market on locallygrown.com, giving growers a more convenient way to promote their goods with less risk. Since all of the produce is pre-ordered by customers, there is less overall loss for growers.
Rhonda truly believes that the earth is a source of healing for all people, that “from dust we came and to dust we shall return.” She believes—no, she knows—that we can strengthen both our bodies and the world around us by taking in the pure goodness of vegetables grown in the soil where we too grow—vitamins, minerals, nutrients, everything that works to make us whole and healthy. The ill health of those around her, be they family, friends, or complete strangers, is only a chance for her to open her enormous heart a little bit further to take them in and spread the goodness that she knows exists.