Fresh Food + Exercise – Violence = Healthy Communities
Growing greener and healthier in Richmond, California.
Bay Area LISC
Creating healthier communities means much more than attracting medical facilities to those communities, although that’s certainly a key ingredient.
At the Getting It Done II conference’s Getting Healthy workshop, the panelists mostly talked about the other factors that a community can focus on to help residents stay healthy, above and beyond access to doctors and other medical professionals.
“Your Zip code and where you live is a bigger determinant for your health than your genetic code,” said Margaret Gee, director of neighborhood development and communications for Bay Area LISC.
“Health is no longer just about access to health care,” she told the crowd. “Health is improved by a full grocery store, a livable and safe environment, and access to a quality education so you graduate high school.”
Fresh Eggs in Brooklyn
In the fresh-food desert of East Brooklyn, for example, when the Cypress Hills Local Development Corp. and its partners launched a new bilingual school, they made sure it had a fully equipped kitchen and a top-floor greenhouse.
Nearby, they’re working with an urban agriculture organization called East New York Farms to develop a city-owned vacant lot on Pitkin Avenue with chicken coops, a compost station and plans for a second greenhouse. Residents will trade their labor in the chicken coop for fresh eggs, and the planned greenhouse will provide fresh food distribution—and jobs—12 months out of the year.
Betsy MacLean from the Cypress Hills Development Corp. (left) with Colleen Flynn of New York LISC
Eric Young Smith
“The neighborhood has lots of bodegas, few grocery stores, almost no fresh produce—and every fast-food joint you could want,” said Betsy MacLean, director of community development at Cypress Hills. “We’re excited about increasing fresh-food access. … The idea with all of this is to blanket the community with changes.”
East Brooklyn could use some changes to its health indicators: among its approximately 175,000 residents—of whom 61 percent are Latino, 21 percent African American, and 35 percent below the poverty line—the obesity rate is 30 percent, diabetes afflicts 15 percent, and asthma strikes 8 percent of children aged 14 and younger.
To address this set of issues, Cypress Hills worked with New York City LISC and other agencies to pull together a weekend-long community workshop attended by about 300 people, who gave input on how they want the surrounding community developed.
“The participatory design vehicle creates this community ownership piece, which is both beautiful and essential,” MacLean said.
The agencies partnered with parents in the community to build the school, which has ovens and plenty of refrigerator space to cook and store fresh food, she said, adding that “the salad bar is at the height of pre-K kids, which is super-adorable.”
Sports as a Vehicle
Fresh food is one part of keeping healthy; another is regular exercise. That’s not always easy in neighborhoods where violence and crime can keep kids indoors and a lack of recreational programming can limit opportunities.
‘Wait a minute, we can use this vehicle to make our neighborhood a safer place.’
To reach young people, Chicago’s Beyond the Ball has created a culture of safety around its events, which most notably include the weekly B-Ball on the Block outdoor basketball league that’s spread to several Chicago communities with help from LISC Chicago, said Rob Castañeda, Beyond the Ball’s executive director.
Given the lack of green space in the Little Village community, B-Ball on the Block sets up in the street, cordoning off individual blocks much like a block party, with art projects, health screenings and a healthy police presence to keep the peace.
“We’ve intentionally used sport to take back the neighborhood,” Castañeda said. “I got my first glimpse of, ‘Wait a minute, we can use this vehicle to make our neighborhood a safer place.’”
By bringing youth in an often fractured, fearful community together, B-Ball has given its organizers a chance to impart positive values, Castañeda pointed out.
Rob Castañeda from Beyond the Ball
Eric Young Smith
“It’s the idea of teaching social and personal responsibility through sport,” he said. “It’s amazing what this is like. Here you have kids who are supposed to be creating all the problems.”
The concepts beyond B-Ball evolved into another event called Project Play, aimed at kindergarteners through second-graders in Little Village, who tend to become upset at the end of the school year because “they associate summer with being stuck in the house,” Castañeda said.
The first Project Play attracted more than 1,000 children and their families for a mass picnic in a park that sits on the border between two gang territories—and is thus seldom used.
“It’s a chance for the community to tell the thugs out there, ‘Hey, you know, this is our park,’” a mother says in a video shot during the event, which Castañeda showed at the conference. As if on cue, gunshots ring out in the background as the woman finishes speaking, and she barely reacts. “This is what life is like in the neighborhood,” he noted.
But Beyond the Ball and its partner agencies are working to improve that—for example, they faced down those engaged in the shooting, and Project Play hasn’t seen a repeat of such an incident for the past three years, he said.
Comprehensive Approach to Health
The industrial city of Richmond, Calif., north of Berkeley has health indicators similar to those of East Brooklyn: 39 percent of teens are obese or overweight, 21 percent of children have asthma, and only 19 percent of adults engage in regular physical activity.
When it comes to health care in the community, Bay Area LISC and the city government have gotten onto the same page about taking a comprehensive community development approach that’s “about more than adding facilities and controlling Chevron’s emissions [at a local plant],” Gee said.
With a “cross-sectoral” approach that’s brought together residents, businesses, nonprofits, schools and the city, they’ve mapped local land use to scout out potential locations for urban agriculture and begun building programming for local parks. “At the core of both initiatives is the need to build resident capacity,” Gee said.
Healthy foods in Richmond
Bay Area LISC
They’re working to train health promontores to encourage people to develop healthier behavior and seeding a healthy eating initiative to reduce caloric intake and increase both physical activity and produce consumption. That’s brought cooking classes and other workshops to two schools, three community centers and a number of churches, Gee reported.
Bay Area LISC and its partners have found that reaching children first often spreads ideas about healthy eating and exercise to their parents and other family members. “Kids are the biggest nags,” she said.
Ideas from Around the Table
A healthy food roundtable held the following day echoed much of what the panelists had said and added some new thoughts to the mix.
Participants noted that to reach adults who are used to traditional diets requires some time and patience—as culture change often does—and that it’s particularly hard to reach those who lack Internet access, particularly seniors.
Another successful tactic: creating a grocery shopping map that shows where to find healthier, more nutritional items.
Agencies can educate people about issues like how to monitor portion size and how to read food labels, while leveraging public events like farmers market to engage them in healthy eating. Another successful tactic is creating a grocery shopping map that shows where to find healthier, more nutritional items.
All of this requires buy-in from various community and institutional partners—financial counselors might admonish people on a limited budget for spending more on food, for example, not realizing that they’re doing it to stay healthy. Framing healthy food initiatives as an economic development issue also can help to build support.
The breadth and depth of ideas around healthier communities that were discussed during the two days of Getting It Done II shows that it takes many different programs and projects to have an impact on resident health. It also shows, however, that healthy living can be a part of many neighborhood initiatives that are already underway.
Posted in Chicago, New York, Healthy Residents, Richmond, CA, Notes from the Field