Food Security

National Study of Community Benefit Practices to Promote Healthy Food Access

Health Care Without Harm’s (HCWH) three-year project, Catalyzing Health Care Investment in Healthier Food Systems, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, includes a national study of nonprofit hospitals’ community benefit practices to promote healthy food access and healthier community food environments. The national research informs the development of tools and resources to help facilities address healthy food access and risk of diet-related health conditions in their community health needs assessments (CHNAs) and community benefit implementation strategies.

A national survey of not-for-profit general hospitals throughout the United States assessed the landscape of community benefit programming to increase healthy food access, promote healthy and sustainable food systems, and reduce risk of diet-related health conditions.

Researchers discovered that obesity and diet-related health conditions were among the most common health needs identified in CHNAs. A key finding was that the majority of interventions centered around diet and nutrition education and exercise promotion– and that fewer interventions focused on increasing access to  healthy foods.

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“Alongside the nutrition and exercise information, a lot more can be done to address healthy food access in our communities,” Susan Bridle-Fitzpatrick, PhD, Health Care Without Harm Senior Researcher, said. “Health professionals may educate overweight or diabetic community members to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables per day, but if there are no places to buy affordable fresh produce in the neighborhood, or families are struggling with food insecurity, then these folks will have a difficult time adhering to the recommendations. It is critical to understand the environmental context and how the choices people make depend on the choices they have. People know to eat broccoli and apples–what are the other obstacles keeping people from eating healthier foods? We need to make access to healthy foods both convenient and affordable in our communities.”

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The study involves a national survey of not-for-profit hospitals, analysis of survey respondents’ Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNAs) and implementation strategies, in-depth interviews with key informants, case studies, and a literature review. This report is the first in a series of research reports and other resources that will be released in 2017 and early 2018. These will include a comprehensive research report that will discuss in depth the findings from the survey and other research methods and present recommendations. Also upcoming is a toolkit of guidance resources that will support hospital community benefit professionals and community partners in developing initiatives to promote healthy food access and healthier food environments.

While this project takes a broad look at how hospitals are assessing healthy food access, obesity, and diet-related health needs in their CHNAs and how facilities are addressing these needs in their implementation strategies, the forthcoming resources particularly recommend certain kinds of “win-win-win” opportunities. The toolkit will highlight innovative examples where hospitals employ their community benefit resources to:

  1. improve access to healthy, affordable food and at the same time
  2. support economic and workforce development in low-income communities
  3. strengthen local and sustainable food systems

The project promotes “promising practices” initiatives that include local food producers and processors as part of a multi-pronged effort to increase access to fresh, affordable, and sustainably produced food; promote health equity; and stimulate the local economy—particularly through creating well-paid jobs in low-income communities. These “win-win-win” initiatives support the local food system while working to eliminate health disparities and empower and improve the lives of community residents.

Three Ways to Improve Access to Healthy Food

More than forty million Americans live in food insecure households – that’s 13 percent of US households, including 13 million children. Over the last decade we have seen an uptick in communities taking action to not only alleviate food insecurity, but to increase access to healthy foods. From farmers markets to mobile markets, communities are adopting strategies that are the most appropriate and effective for their residents. While it is still a learning process for many communities to determine how to serve all their residents in the most efficient way, several promising strategies are being implemented. Three popular strategies are outlined below.

Mobile Markets

Mobile markets are cropping up around the US as a strategy to increase access to healthy food, particularly in food deserts. They essentially “meet you where you’re at”, often serving areas that have poor access to super markets and grocery stores- or areas that simply lack access to healthy food options. The communities they serve tend to have residents with a lower socio economic status and are more burdened by obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

While people who shop at mobile markets do eat significantly more fruits and vegetables than non shoppers, there are some general knowledge and logistical gaps that need to be filled in order to be more effective in the communities they serve. First, there needs to be better strategy of raising awareness of the mobile market in communities, along with convenient locations and hours of operation.

Second, customers need to be education on what a serving is, how many servings of fruits and veggies should be eaten each day, how to cook fruits and veggies, and perhaps most importantly a strategy to combat the perception that fruits and veggies are unaffordable, luxury foods. Mobile markets that accept SNAP and WIC nutrition assistance programs will have an even greater impact on access.

A great example of a mobile food market is the Hamilton County Mobile Food Market in Chattanooga, TN.

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Food policy councils 

Food policy councils advise state and local governments on policy to improve access to healthy, affordable food. They develop food policies and programs that directly impact individuals’ access to healthy foods. While they may not directly increase consumption of healthy foods, they are responsible for taking actions that lead to the development of community and school gardens, farm-to-institution programs, increasing enrollment in food assistance programs, and creating new forms of insurance for small, local producers. They are a great example of collaborative efforts among nutrition, health, education, agriculture, policy, and business stakeholders.

The Colorado Food Policy Network has grown to include more than 18 food policy councils around the state. Community Commons has supported their efforts to collect, visualize, and analyze state, regional, and local data. Their Colorado Food Systems Hub on Community Commons allows food policy councils to connect and collaborate so they can better coordinate efforts around the state. The Colorado Movement Map visualizes where and what kind of work each council is doing.

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Farmers markets, community supported agriculture, farm-to-institution

These programs not only increase access to healthy food throughout the community, they support local producers. Right now, people are very engaged in buying local, organic foods. In fact, it’s a market that has been growing 40-60 percent each year. It’s growth that is seen in rural and urban parts of America. People trust local produce more, and want the satisfaction of supporting local producers. That’s why farmers markets, CSAs, and farm-to-institution programs are popular outlets. While farmers we are seeing a peak in farmers markets, we’re also seeing an increase in more farm-to-institution programs (i.e. schools, hospitals, restaurants, grocery stores) and food hubs. Food hubs increased 288 percent from 2007 to 2012! So we’re seeing many communities integrate local produce into schools and businesses and farmers finding more cost-effective venues to sell their products- the sign of a maturing market.

Mobile markets, food-to-institution programs and food policy councils are great ways to increase access to healthy foods and support local producers. Research on effectiveness and best practices for implementation for some of these strategies are still formative. However, the fact that we’re seeing a growth in mobile food markets and local producers expanding to more businesses and institutions is a promising sign that healthy food is becoming more accessible to America’s most vulnerable populations.

Taxes on Groceries, Not Soda, Are Hurting Poor Americans

This post was originally written by Tove Danovich and was published on Take Part.  The original article can be found here.

Soda taxes are continuing to bubble up throughout the United States. After Berkeley, California’s soda tax brought in $1.2 million in revenue in its first months, cash-strapped Philadelphia passed a 1.5-cent–per–liter tax in June. In November, several other cities will vote on their own measures, including San Francisco (again) and Boulder, Colorado.

But while soda taxes have proven to be effective both in generating revenue and reducing sugar-sweetened-beverage consumption, not all taxes are created equal. New research suggests that taxing all groceries, as some states and counties do, puts additional pressure on food-insecure households.

Community Commons addition: Maps like these visually tell the story of a community and its health. Click on the map and zoom to your location to see this data for your area or visit our Map Room to create your own maps.

Community Commons addition: Maps like these visually tell the story of a community and its health. Click on the map and zoom to your location to see this data for your area or visit our Map Room to create your own maps.

Sixteen states have a grocery tax at a state or local level. Such a tax can “cost families hundreds of dollars per year,” according to a recent paper called Do Grocery Food Sales Taxes Cause Food Insecurity? Researchers from Auburn University, Cornell University, and the University of Kentucky found that the average rate for these taxes was 4.3 percent. While an extra few dollars per grocery run may not seem like much, for people living off incomes at and around the federal poverty line—just over $2,000 a month for a family of four—a small cost increase is a big deal. A 2013 study found that a $10 increase in food costs for a household receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (as food stamps are known) can raise the prevalence of food insecurity by 2.7 percent. In January, 22.3 million households were receiving SNAP benefits. That small increase would mean an additional 602,100 households would face food insecurity even while receiving government assistance.

It may seem obvious that anything that raises costs could pose financial difficulties for people with little money to spare. Yet, lead author Norbert Wilson said, the argument in favor of grocery taxes is often that the tax is insignificant. But for families struggling to get by, what seems insignificant can look a whole lot different. As incomes rise, the percent of income spent on food shrinks. Only 13.4 percent of total income is spent on food among middle-income citizens, while the poorest spend 34.1 percent on food, or $3,667 per year, according to the USDA.

Food purchased with benefits from SNAP are tax-free, providing participants additional financial benefit in areas that have such taxes. “SNAP outreach could be a potential solution,” Wilson said of curbing food insecurity in places with grocery taxes. Only 85 percent of those eligible sign up for food-stamp benefits.

The three states with the highest levels of food insecurity, according to 2014 data from Feeding America—Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama—have grocery taxes in place. In Mississippi and Alabama, groceries are taxed at the same rate as the general retail tax—an approach that isn’t found anywhere else in the country. In 2013, West Virginia, which also suffers from high levels of food insecurity, ended its grocery sales tax even though it would cost the state $174 million in annual revenue, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “For too long West Virginians have been burdened by a regressive tax on one of life’s basic necessities,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said in a statement.

Community Commons addition: Maps like these visually tell the story of a community and its health. Click on the map and zoom to your location to see this data for your area or visit our Map Room to create your own maps.

Community Commons addition: Maps like these visually tell the story of a community and its health. Click on the map and zoom to your location to see this data for your area or visit our Map Room to create your own maps.


Consumers Crave Fast Food With Conscience: But What’s The Business Model?

This story was written by Natalie Bettendorf and produced by Youth Radio as part of the series Fast Food Scramble with NPR’s Sonari Glinton. The original article can be found here.

We’re facing a kind of food revolution, and my generation is driving it.

Not so long ago, when fast food giants reigned supreme, takeout meant cheap, quick, greasy meals. But a recent Goldman Sachs report says people under 35 want meals that are fresh, healthy and adventurous, as well as fast. Bad news for your typical burger joint, good news for food entrepreneurs like Charley Wang.

“We don’t want something that everyone and anyone can have,” Wang says. “We want something that has soul, that has personalization to it.”

Rate of Fast Food Restaurants

Community Commons addition: Maps like these visually tell the story of a community and its health. Click on the map and zoom to your location to see this data for your area or visit our Map Room to create your own maps.

Wang is co-founder of a startup called Josephine. You can use the company’s website to buy home cooked meals from your neighbors, no drive through required. And from the perspective of their contractors, the chefs, it’s a quick entry into what’s becoming known as the “on-demand” food marketplace. All you need is Internet access, and a kitchen.

One of those home cooks is Renee McGhee. On this particular day in Berkeley, California, McGhee is stirring a giant pot of bean soup, and scooping thick globs of cornbread batter into oversized muffin tins.

“You don’t want to mix it too much,” McGhee said. “The lumps will bake out and it will be just fine.”

Cooks for Josephine hand over ten percent of their revenue to the company in exchange for the use of their online ordering platform and marketing materials. It’s kinda like Uber, McGhee says, but with kitchens instead of cars. And like Uber, Josephine is bringing some surprising players into the market.

vegetables-742095_1920A few miles away at Willard Middle School in Berkeley, you’ll see teachers preparing giant piles of vegetables from the school garden to be chopped by 12- and 13-year-olds. The school is in its second year of partnering with to make and sell hundreds meals every month — with some adult supervision.

The partnership is a win-win. Josephine gets the kind of community credibility consumers want. The school gets a cool learning opportunity and a much-needed source of ongoing funding. But there are plenty of hurdles. Thirteen-year-old Willard student Fae Rauber remembers their first massive meal attempt for Josephine.

“We had rice we were making, and it all didn’t work,” she said. “So we had to go and buy rice, like half an hour before people started coming.”

Despite mishaps like the “rice incident,” last school year Josephine’s partnership brought Willard Middle more than 30 thousand dollars in revenue and accounted for 25 percent of Josephine’s new customers. But like other companies that are part of the so-called “sharing economy,” Josephine’s business model has put it at odds with industry regulators. Last month, the city of Berkeley’s Environmental Health Division sent several Josephine cooks cease and desist orders for selling meals from their homes without a permit.

“The issue really is about food safety and being able to inspect how food is prepared,” said Matthai Chakko, a spokesperson for the city of Berkeley. He says it’s not safe to buy food made in home kitchens because they aren’t inspected, and usually don’t have the equipment you need to make food safely in mass quantities.

The cease and desist orders have halted business for many of the company’s sellers, including Renee McGhee.

“You realize right away, I’ve broken the law, [but] while I was doing it, didn’t feel like that. It feels like I’m doing what I love,” McGhee said. “People were happy and pleased to come here and get their meals and I think that’s their right.”

But actually delivering on what makes consumers happy — it’s something the whole on-demand food industry is still figuring out. With pioneers like SpoonRocket closing and other companies turning to monthly membership fees, it seems that businesses are still working on getting the recipe right.

For now, Josephine is still up and running — some of their chefs, like the kids at Willard Middle School, have access to commercial grade kitchens that have the necessary permits. And the company says it’s pushing to change California’s law around who can make and sell food.

Partner Spotlight: Exploring Missouri’s Agricultural Opportunities

The Agriculture Opportunities in Missouri Hub offers a unique set of tools to help producers assess opportunities for 16 alternative and specialty crops. Designed as a resource primarily for MU Extension Specialists, the Hub offers everyone from lifelong producers to beginning farmers easy-to-use assessment tools that gauge crop opportunities based on:

  • Local market opportunities
  • Level of producers’ expertise
  • Crop suitability in producers’ area (down to street address), and
  • Available agronomic and machinery resources

“The site is tailored for folks who have never grown the crop previously; beginning farmers who want to grow specialty crops or something with a higher value. It boils down key questions people would ask an expert,” said Joe Parcell, Ph.D, Professor and Department Chair of Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources (CAFNR) at the University of Missouri.

The site is made possible because of the 22,000 layers of data sets provided by the Center for Applied Research and Environmental Systems (CARES), a mapping and data visualization center at the University of Missouri. Few states have access to this kind of local data. According to Dr. Parcell, “If I was anywhere else but Missouri, I wouldn’t be able to do this.”

An overview of resources available on the site is below.

“What Should I Grow?” Crop Decision Tool

MU Extension crop experts were asked to list 5 questions they would ask if someone called and said “I want to grow [xyz]. What do I need to consider?” The questions are dynamic and dependent on the crop – scores are calculated based on answers provided. The icons next to each question link to further resources and information to help you determine what crop you should grow. Click the image to explore the Crop Decision Tool.

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Crop Suitability Tool

The next step is to explore the suitability maps to determine if the crop is suitable to grow in your area. The area below shows Kirksville, MO, but you can type in a specific address to determine suitability for any area in the state. It’s recommended to only choose suitable or highly suitable areas to grow your crop. Check out the Crop Suitability Tool to see what crops will do well in your area.

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Food Marketing Tool

Now, say you’ve decided to grow Sweet Sorghum and have a suitable area to grow in Kirksville, MO. The next step is to determine the market opportunities for your crop. The Food Market Evaluation Tool can help you get a general idea of opportunities in your area by providing demographic info, purchasing power of potential customers, competitors, and more.

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Assess Your Management Capabilities

Once you’ve identified good market prospects, one final consideration is to assess your management capabilities. Are you able to fix broken down equipment? Are you comfortable with a debt/asset ratio above 50 percent? Are you comfortable managing labor? Do you have access to the necessary equipment? There’s a number of managerial concerns to address depending on the crop you want to grow, and the Management Assessment Tool will help you identify your strong areas and areas for improvement. It will determine your capabilities based on a skills survey and will provide tips and resources to further prepare you for your operation.

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Agriculture Resource Guide

The Resource Guides provide additional information on certain crops, like Sweet Sorghum. Under each crop are specific production, marketing, machinery and equipment guides to help you determine suitable crops, plan, and maintain your production.

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Feed the Future Research Series Part I: Sustainable Food Security

Feed the Future strategies for food security are designed not only to accelerate agriculture-led growth and reduce undernutrition, but also to encourage sustainable and equitable management of land, water, fisheries, and other resources. Feed the Future Intern Christopher Chapman asked soil fertility and conservation agriculture expert Michael Mulvaney to tell us more about the importance of sustainable agriculture. read more

Obesity Prevention Advocates Hail Illinois Fresh Food Fund

CHICAGO, July 30, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Members of the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity hailed the establishment of the Illinois Fresh Food Fund on Monday.

The newly created fund was announced by Governor Pat Quinn, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), and IFF.  The Illinois Fresh Food Fund will finance the creation of full-service grocery stores and, on a case-by-case basis, other retail models that will increase the availability of fresh food in low-access areas.  More…

Can urban farming go corporate?

Farms have sprouted in cities across the country over the past several years as activists and idealists pour their sweat into gritty soil. Now Paul Lightfoot wants to take urban agriculture beyond the dirt-under-your-nails labor of love. He wants to take it corporate.

In June, Lightfoot’s company, BrightFarms, announced a deal with The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co., or A&P, to provide New York City-grown vegetables to the local chain’s supermarkets year-round. The goods will grow in what the company says will be the country’s largest rooftop greenhouse farm, a high-tech hydroponic operation that will boost yields, allowing the company to face-off with organic vegetables trucked from California, cutting thousands of miles from the supply chain while aiming to provide a fresher product at a competitive price.  More…

Nutritionists, health activists say better behavior is more effective in weight loss than playing the blame game nutritionists health activists say better behavior is more effective in weight loss than playing the blame game

The United States is well into its fourth decade of the “obesity epidemic,” and no matter how loudly we repeat the refrain “eat less and exercise more,” the numbers on our collective scale keep creeping upward.

Is weight gain caused by individuals’ poor diet and lack of exercise? Or is it an unavoidable effect of an abundant food supply, out-of-control marketing and unlucky genetics? And if most of the evidence points to the latter, why do government agencies continue to use tax dollars to promote solutions that have no hope of working?

In May, HBO aired “Weight of the Nation,” a miniseries produced with the Institute of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health. The four-part series made an impassioned case for the dangers of overweight and obesity, and the need to act now before it is too late for a generation of Americans.

The campaign was intended to start a national discussion about weight and health, but the responses have been mixed, as many nutritionists and public health activists have called the miniseries out for its “fat-shaming” rhetoric and emphasis on individual responsibility.  More…

We Need Better Food. We Need Fairer Food Jobs. So Let’s Get Both.

Today,’s publisher, the Applied Research Center, released a new report on the potential for bringing together two movements: one that works on good food and one that works on good jobs. These vibrant movements are successful in many ways on their own, but we theorized that new possibilities would open up if they collaborate on joint projects that address the need for good, healthy food in communities nationwide, as well as the need for good, healthy jobs in the food chain.

National attention to obesity, diabetes and other health issues have provided an opening to examine eating habits and access to food. The food chain itself, which starts with agriculture and ends at your dinner table, constitutes an enormous section of the economy, with production, processing and distribution comprising 10-15 percent of many local economies. Yet, the people who work in that food chain are deeply segregated by race, gender and immigration status and the working conditions for too many are marked with unpaid wages and unsafe labor practices.  More…

Australians are ‘food illiterate’

Australians lack “food literacy” and are unaware of growing threats to national food production, according to new research.

A national survey conducted by the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance found 60 per had not heard of the term “food security” and did not know what it meant. It also found 65 per cent were not worried about the future of Australia’s food supplies over the next 50 years, despite multiple threats posed by climate change, coal-seam gas exploration, increasing soil salinity and loss of farmland to urban sprawl. More…

Grow your own: making Australian cities more food-secure

Food security has typically been framed as an issue of global concern, concentrated within developing countries. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation defines food security in terms of the availability of food sufficient to meet the needs of all people at all times, and while this conception acknowledges that people must have the wherewithal to meet their own needs, it can lead to a preoccupation with the gross volume of food produced, at the expense of questions of distribution and adequacy. More..

A Year of Community Brainstorming

With high levels of food insecurity, disparities in access to food across the city, and 13 different city agencies playing a role in shaping our local food system, a group of advocates and service providers has proposed the formation of a food policy council with the intention of improving DC’s fragmented food system. One of the approaches we’ve taken is something we’re calling “Community Brainstorms.” More…