According to the Illinois Local Food and Organic Food and Farm Task Force “(t)he shortage of well-stocked grocery stores has led many urban and rural communities to be recognized as ‘food deserts.’ …Studies show that food deserts residents suffer greater rates of diet-related health maladies, including diabetes, cancer, obesity, heart disease, and premature death than residents with regular access to unprocessed foods. These studies also show that food deserts are most likely to exist in low-income communities, where there are also other social determinants of poverty, such as race and ethnicity.”1
In another report on Chicago food deserts, two strategic questions stand out:
• “What is the viability of mobile grocery stores, such as fruit and vegetable trucks and even bicycle carts that sell fresh snacks and produce?
• “Is a ‘food literacy’ education campaign needed? Do we all know how to read recipes and food labels, measure ingredients, size food portions appropriately, cook, and maintain healthy food choices?”2
By introducing Neighborhood Nutrition Centers into these “grocery challenged” communities, these questions are addressed and a connection to local Illinois growers is made. Promoting access to locally grown foods and increasing educational awareness opportunities are key components of the neighborhood nutrition concept.
Neighborhood Nutrition Centers provide communities locally farmed produce through direct partnerships with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farming programs; serve as a pick up/ delivery point for CSA produce; and provide bicycle delivery services to reach those with restricted mobility access and increase greater CSA participation. Neighborhood Nutrition Centers also provides a mechanism for people to use their Illinois Link Cards and, through additional subsidies, CSA produce is made as a viable option to low-income families.
Neighborhood Nutrition Centers house cooking facilities to be used for hands-on classes as well as provide opportunity for community neighbors to share their knowledge and cooking skills. These community training events increase awareness of healthier choices and demonstrate the best use of CSA produce. Nutrition centers also provide educational research and resource areas, and utilize backyard gardens to promote how individuals can successfully manage small urban growing areas. These on-site gardens provide produce and herbs to supplement community training courses, with the surplus produce provided to the community.
Local jobs and neighborhood job training is provided through programming and operation of the centers, while delivery service programs provide employment for neighborhood youth and the under employed.
Through partnerships with schools, access to healthier snack choices as a supplement to lunch and after-school programs is provided, with centers serving as an excellent educational resource.
Neighborhood Nutrition Centers improve Chicago neighborhoods through its concept of “better nutrition for better community.” Support is provided by the Center for Economic Policy Analysis (CEPA), a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization who will serve as fiscal agent and will also contribute to developing Neighborhood Nutrition Centers.
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Les Kniskern holds a Master of Arts in Community Development degree from North Park University. He has a legislative and policy analysis background, and recently served two years as Chief of Staff for State Representative John Fritchey. He has extensive background in project management, working for seven years as a production manager with Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, and as a free-lance stage manager.
1. Local Food, Farms & Jobs: Growing the Illinois Economy, A Report to the Illinois General Assembly by The Illinois Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force, March 2009, p. 9
2. Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Chicago, Mari Gallagher, Research and Consulting, 2006, p. 35