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Program to make choosing healthy food easierPrint

Farms Food & Health | June 22, 2016 | By Sean Walsh

Program to make choosing healthy food easier

Groundwork and TLD will create farmer bios for all the local farms supplying Honor Family Market with fresh produce to highlight local options and encourage people to purchase fresh produce. 

Most parents know the challenge of going through a grocery checkout lane with their kids. Dozens of brightly packaged, easy-to-grab, and relatively inexpensive chocolates, candies, and chips scream to the fidgety youngsters: “Eat Me! I will make you happy!” Meanwhile, the local apples, carrots, and dairy products hide in the back of the store, unable to compete with these easily accessible and highly processed sugar and salt-laden products.

This marketing tactic works marvelously for the food industry, but it’s also helping to fuel a growing obesity and diabetes problem. In Michigan, 31 percent of adults and 17 percent of children are obese, ranking our state in the top third nationally. While inactivity is also a cause, it is largely the overconsumption of unhealthy, calorie-laden “food” choices that are masterfully marketed in ways that make unhealthy choices the most convenient choices.

Groundwork’s Food and Farming program has been working to strengthen a local food economy that helps northern Michigan farmers access new markets. But too often those local, healthy options are only available in a few select stores, while the majority of the community buys food in places where the unhealthy choices are the most available.

Groundwork is partnering with the Health Department of Northwest Michigan (HDNWM) on a Building Healthy Communities program “to make healthier food choices easier to make and ultimately impact our communities by reducing the incidence of chronic disease,” said Lynne DeMoor, a nutritionist and community health coordinator at the HDNWM.

The Health Department of Northwest Michigan recruited Groundwork, along with five other community partners, to identify and guide 50 local business and institutions that serve food—including schools, hospitals, food pantries, retail locations and elderly living facilities—in making changes to their food delivery system that will make healthy choices more accessible. The program offers mini-grant funding to these sites that will be used to implement evidence-based health promotion strategies.

Groundwork is working with 18 of the local businesses and institutions across seven counties that provide food services to the public to help them make healthy food choices more prominent, offering them each $2,500 in mini-grants to support their efforts. Groundwork also received funding to consult with the other five partner organizations in the Building Healthy Communities program to advise on effective marketing strategies and provide the sites with existing local & healthy food resources.

“The changes we make will benefit a large number of local people,” said Tricia Phelps, operations director at Taste the Local Difference®, who is overseeing Groundwork’s BHC programs in hospitals and retail settings. “Plus, due to the wide variety of sites we’re working with, people will be influenced by the changes in their schools, at food pantries, in the grocery store, and at healthcare locations. The more frequently this message is communicated, the more likely someone is to make real behavioral change.” 

The flexibility in how BHC grant funds can be spent is allowing for innovative and varied approaches in dealing with the issues that prevent individuals from consuming healthy foods. 

“BHC funds are helping us to work with food pantries and meal sites interested in purchasing equipment that will help them prepare and store fresh produce, building on-site gardens to grow fresh produce that will be distributed in the pantries; and displaying helpful information for clients looking to make healthful choices,” said Meghan McDermott, a food and farming policy specialist at Groundwork who is overseeing BHC programing in food pantries and schools. “We’re also working with schools to purchase equipment that will help them prepare more fresh, healthful foods, including salad bars, robo-coups for processing fresh fruits and vegetables, and industrial-scale blenders for smoothies.”

There is a lot of work left to reduce rates of chronic disease in our region, but the BHC grant program is a powerful tool in the right direction. It will make it easier for individuals to make healthier choices for themselves and their families. BHC programs, paired with Groundwork’s existing programs, will strengthen and grow northwest Michigan’s food system as a sustainable, local, and healthy example for our state and country.    

Be sure to watch groundworkcenter.org for future stories and information as these projects take shape.