Our current food system fails to promote public health and suppresses economic opportunity. Diet-related chronic diseases are numerous and include hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. Low-income communities are especially vulnerable to these poor outcomes with low-income communities and communities of color being disproportionately affected.
A new report issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists, titled Fixing Food: Fresh Solutions from Five U.S. Cities, examines how local communities are addressing food access in their communities through innovative efforts that make healthy food more available and affordable. The case studies in this report highlight how local policies and programs can address food system challenges at different points in the supply chain and collectively suggest the possibility for change.
The five cities highlighted in the report are:
Oakland, California (Production) – The Oakland Food Policy Council (OFPC) was formed to engage the community while researching and promoting equitable and sustainable food policies. A major barrier for local producers had been a permitting requirement that cost $3,000. Residents believed this to be unjust and with the help of the OFPC were able to remove the requirement through the newly launched Right to Grow campaign, which opened the opportunity for urban gardening and produce sales.
Memphis, Tennessee (Production) – Roots Memphis, a nonprofit urban farm, operates in pursuit of social, environmental and economic sustainability. In 2013, Roots Memphis started the Farm Academy, a five month program that trains the next generation of farmers and has the potential to both reverse the decline of farmers and provide a significant economic boost in the area. Enrollees are required to develop a business plan and operate a farm plot as part of their training and receive assistance from the academy upon graduation with critical business needs.
Louisville, Kentucky (Distribution) – In order to increase the accessibility and affordability of local, healthy food, New Roots, a local non-profit created the Fresh Stop Market Program. This program allows participants to buy shares, mostly composed of fresh fruits and vegetables, at affordable prices with those on food assistance receiving further discounts. Additionally, deliveries include a newsletter with recipe ideas. Markets can be organized by interested community members who will then receive training on all aspects of running the operation.
Baltimore, Maryland (Consumption) – The Virtual Supermarket Program enables community members to order from participating grocers online and have their order delivered to a local library to pick up. The program, now at four sites throughout Baltimore, provides training to residents and assistance to grocers to reduce operational costs. The Virtual Supermarket Program has helped to influence new federal legislation that allows retailers to test the use of online technologies to process Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT), which may lead to an expansion of options for EBT users in the future.
Minneapolis, Minnesota (Consumption) – The Minneapolis City Council has passed an ordinance requiring corner stores to carry categories of specific food, including eggs, milk, grains and five types of fresh produce. When adopted, nearly 75 percent of stores did not meet these requirements and many needed help. The Minneapolis Healthy Corner Store Program was created with the aim of making fresh produce available and appealing for the community. This Program has helped to increase availability and sales of fresh produce in stores as well as the knowledge and understanding of store owners about how to handle and market fresh produce. If adopted by all corner stores in the area more than 11,000 servings of food and vegetables could be sold.
See the full report for additional detail.
The initiatives highlighted above are just a few examples of communities working to address this issue. Numerous Plan4Health coalitions are focused on improving the local food systems in their communities. In Austin, Texas, a Neighborhood Food Systems Planning process is being piloted using community engagement and outreach to identify strategies and tactics that will improve access to healthy and local foods. Through the planning process, neighborhood residents will have the opportunities and information necessary to access food that is nutritious, affordable, and culturally appealing.
In Metro Boston, work is being done to address unhealthy diets by increasing access to healthy food by establishing distribution networks, supporting healthy retail initiatives, and collaborating with stores to promote and highlight healthy foods.
Images from Plan4Health