The Coalition’s mission is to promote a healthy, equitable, and sustainable food system – and being at the intersection of health and equity, it’s no wonder Health & Nutrition is one of our powerhouse working groups. Making fresh fruits and vegetables and other whole foods more available in our urban areas can counterbalance people’s tendency to eat highly processed “fast foods” that contribute to heart disease, diabetes, and other diet-related illnesses (mainly because that’s what’s most available in many neighborhoods). Increased availability may be through corner stores, farmers’ markets, the few-and-far-between urban grocery stores, restaurants, street vendors, schools, hospitals, and other institutions. Health & Nutrition has addressed access in several of these areas and has made some major strides thus far, as you’ll read below.
Follow this link to read a comprehensive policy brief prepared by FPC about the state of healthy food access in Greater Cleveland and programs in place to improve it.
Increasing Use of Food Assistance at Local Farmers’ Markets
One of the greatest successes of our Health & Nutrition Working Group has been a project to improve the ability of individuals receiving food assistance to redeem their benefits at area farmers’ markets. Case Western Reserve’s Weatherhead School of Management conducted a study released in 2009 about how to create successful farmers’ markets in low-income, urban neighborhoods. The study, which incorporated national and international perspectives but was focused on Cleveland, supports the notion of farmers’ markets increasing access for underserved urban populations and offers numerous strategies and best practices for doing so.
In January 2009 Health & Nutrition offered a workshop for farmers’ market managers to learn about opportunities and the process for including EBT (i.e. food stamps or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)) at their markets. Over 20 market managers attended, coming from three counties. Market managers learned of an Ohio Department of Agriculture program called the Farmers’ Market Access Project that would provide free EBT machines to farmers’ markets that wanted them. This effort evolved into our current Produce Perks program.
Additionally, the FPC was invovled in the design and implementation of the Produce Prescription program (PRx). PRx sought to promote use of farmers’ markets to increase fresh fruit and vegetable consumption among pregnant women at risk for developing chronic diet-related diseases. This program also worked to leverage Produce Perks by communicating the program and SNAP enrollment to participants who may be eligible but have not applied for this benefit.
Another policy brief examines the barriers and successes of food assistance at farmers’ markets in Cuyahoga County through the end of 2009.
Cleveland Corner Store Project
Another success of the Health & Nutrition Working Group was the Cleveland Corner Store Project, which helped increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in convenience stores in underserved Cleveland neighborhoods as a way of addressing food insecurity. The research was conducted through the Center for Health Promotion Research and was led by co-founder and former co-convener of the Coalition, Matt Russell. Members of Health & Nutrition contributed through OSU-E’s Extended Family and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). While funding for the project concluded in 2009, the findings and protocol of the project are being applied in the core project of the new Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods, called “Increasing Access to Healthy Foods in Urban Neighborhoods” – and some of the convenience stores in the original program have continued on with the practice of carrying fresh produce for their customers’ benefit. The program was featured in a New York Times story in 2009 and also resulted in an academic paper on the topic. You may be interested to peruse the final report, FAQ, and a large poster describing the results of the study. You may also want to learn more about the role of the Local Purchasing Working Group in this project.
Sustainable Street Food Pilot Program
In 2009 and 2010 the Coalition collaborated with the City of Cleveland and other partners to establish the Sustainable Street Food Pilot Program, which offers grants and favorable loans to new food cart operators who will provide healthy, locally-sourced menu items in a wide array of culinary styles.
Cleveland has a strong and diverse culinary tradition. The program was created in order to expand on this tradition, as well as encourage small business growth and sustainable business practices, activate public spaces, promote local artists, and facilitate the availability of healthy local food options. Partners include the City of Cleveland, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Public Art, Charter One Bank, Playhouse Square, and the Coalition.
Members of the Health & Nutrition Working Group have been closely involved in the creation and streamlining of the RFP/Application, as well as the evaluation of food cart proposals specifically in terms of the healthfulness of the food offerings. Health & Nutrition members have provided guidance to applicants on how to improve their menus accordingly and were involved in the creation of legislation that allowed the program to come into existence.
In its first year in 2010 the program filled approximately 10 slots, most of which involve a favorable loan to get the carts up and running, along with a grant to work with Cleveland Public Art to design appealing exteriors to carts in order to ensure the program contributes to a more vibrant culinary scene. Read more here about the launch event for the program.
Food Access Analysis & Education
In addition to providing the valuable program assistance detailed above, the Health & Nutrition Working Group has done a number of things to help assess the state of food access in communities and to offer information that can be helpful in taking maximum advantage of the healthy, local food that is presently available.
In the summer of 2010 Health & Nutrition completed work on its Local Foods Guide, which provides a cornucopia of information aimed at helping consumers find ways to engage in the local food movement. Highlights include a guide to buying food in season (and thus maximally nutritious), shopping at the historic West Side Market, listings of area farmers’ markets and community gardens, and tips on how to select and prepare healthy food. The Health & Nutrition Working Group recently released the second edition of the Food Guide in the summer of 2011.
The working group received regular updates and provided advice to two projects investigating barriers to food access in area neighborhoods, Community Conversations 2010 and Ohio Neighborhood Harvest. Community Conversations 2010 was based on focus groups held with individuals of all ages in about a half dozen area neighborhoods to see how they make their food choices and learn more about their thoughts and feelings about the community’s food environment. It builds on the work of the Community Conversations project completed in 2009.
As participants in the Ohio Food Policy Council’s Healthy Food Access Task Force, members of Health & Nutrition provided recommendations for the development of a community food assessment toolkit for urban communities in Ohio to identify food access gaps. These members work with the Ohio Department of Health to use GIS data to map food deserts in major metropolitan areas of Ohio as part of Governor Strickland’s Ohio Neighborhood Harvest initiative.
Members of the Health & Nutrition Working Group also made an important presentation to the members of the Cleveland City Council’s Health and Human Services Committee in March 2010. The committee was briefed on the extent of food access issues faced by city residents (particularly based on the 2008 Cuyahoga County Food Insecurity Analysis) and informed of programs and strategies that have been and may be effective in combating such problems. Several members of the committee expressed deep concern over these issues and indicated they would like to help bring about policy that may alleviate the problems.