Authored by Kavya Sekar & Rachel Nagin
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Why Food Matters for Community Development

November 30th, 2015 by Kavya Sekar & Rachel Nagin

Massachusetts has a thriving local food industry; however, this industry does not equitably serve communities across the state. In 2012, Massachusetts ranked 47th for access to supermarkets with fresh and nutritious foods in low-income urban and rural communities. There is a demonstrated link between lack of access to healthy food retailers and diet related health problems. One third of Massachusetts school children are overweight or obese by the time they reach first grade (Grocery Access Task Force paper), while almost 20% are going hungry (Feeding America report).

In order to leverage the local food economy to create equitable health outcomes and new jobs for low income residents, community developers all over the state have the opportunity to create innovative food initiatives. Many CDCs are already engaging the food system at all levels from growing, to processing, to moving, to distribution, to selling.  CDCs can partner with others to address some of these challenges by: promoting sustainable practices within the food industry to protect the environment, increasing community owned food businesses with good jobs to promote economic development, and increasing access to healthy foods to boost positive health outcomes. On December 3rd, The Mel King Institute is hosting a program, “Health, Community Development and The Food Economy” to teach community developers about how they can leverage food to meet their goals of creating vibrant communities.

For example, The Franklin County Community Development Corporation in Western Massachusetts established the Western MA Food Processing Center which allows local farmers to process their produce so they can sell at winter farmers markets and CSA.  In addition, the Food Center purchases local produce from farmers, freezes it and sells to institutions like hospitals and schools across the state. Many of these large institutions are seeing increased demand for locally sourced food, in part due to campaigns from Health Care without HarmFarm to Institution New England and the Real Food Challenge. The food processing center provides an economic boost to local farmers and to entrepreneurs who work at the center while providing much desired local foods to large institutions.

To connect food access to health outcomes in Brockton, Brockton Neighborhood Health Center (BNHC) opened a satellite primary care site adjacent to a second location for Vicente’s Tropical Supermarket, a long-time community Cape Verdean grocery store. In an effort to increase neighborhood consumption of healthy fresh and prepared foods, BHNC and Vicente’s Tropical Supermarket have teamed up to develop joint nutritional programming. Utilizing the teaching kitchen at BHNC, its full time nutritionist works with patients to teach them to modify traditional recipes to be healthier and to purchase healthier options from the grocery store. The supermarket provided 100 new jobs to a community where a quarter live in poverty and where economic security would go a long way to improve health outcomes.  Financing for the project came in part from two Community Development Financial Institutions, Local Initiatives Support Corporation and Boston Community Capital.

In Dorchester, Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation has a created a community farm called Oasis on Ballou where the urban farm will grow and sell produce to local restaurants and educational programs. The farm provides educational training for community members to learn how to grow and prepare the produce. Oasis on Ballou also employs youth to work in the community garden space.

Current initiatives like these are great steps towards building a more equitable food system to improve access to healthy foods and increase jobs. MACDC is working with the MA Public Health Association to increase funding for the Massachusetts Food Trust program which provides loans, grants and technical assistance to healthy food retailers and local food enterprises in low and moderate income communities. The Massachusetts Food Plan, recently drafted by The Metropolitan Area Planning Council in partnership with food related stakeholders across the state, also outlines a plan to create a more sustainable and equitable food system.

To learn more about these programs and other resources for connecting food and community development, come to our December 3rd training, “Health, Community Development and The Food Economy” Register here

Food related grant opportunities:

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