ORLANDO, Fla. – When gyms closed and the world went into lockdown during the height of the pandemic, Orlando resident Andre Smart knew he had to stay active.
“Unhealthy people, people who don’t work out, who have unhealthy diets, they don’t do as well if they do get COVID-19,” Smart said.
That’s why he started walking around his West Lakes neighborhood and encouraged others to walk with him.
“I told them we need to get it in gear so we can have a healthy neighborhood,” Smart said.
After starting out with just a few friends, the group — West Lakes Walks — eventually grew to more than a dozen strong. They met every morning around 6:30 at the corner of Gore Street and Dollins Avenue and quickly realized you can’t walk and worry at the same time.
“We laughed a lot also,” Smart said. “Everyone was afraid with the constant, 24-hour news of people dying and people getting really sick, so it was a release.”
That release also sparked creativity. In January, they came up with the idea to have a farmer’s market in their neighborhood park.
“The first weekend we had about 20 vendors and now we’re up to about 40,” Smart said. “It’s been a blast.”
But it’s also been a necessity for so many who live nearby.
“We live in a food desert and people need healthy choices,” Smart said.
Since January, the Barkers Park Farmer’s Market has not only provided greater access to affordable and nutritious food, but it’s also helped local small business owners sell their products.
“We have fresh produce, great barbeque, a 16-year-old who sells lip gloss,” Smart said. “We also have a girl who’s deaf and she makes fantastic desserts.”
Empty calories that are easily burned off by walking.