An overflow crowd of more than 175 Central Ohio citizens joined Finance Fund for a lively panel discussion on “Turning Food Deserts into Oases” at the Columbus Metropolitan Club luncheon on February 25.
I had the honor of moderating this panel discussion, which highlighted many different activities that are being developed around healthy food access and local food systems around Central Ohio, the state and nation, along with the importance of increasing access to capital for projects. The CMC conversation came on the heels of the release of policy recommendations to state legislators in a report prepared by The Food Trust on behalf of the Ohio Healthy Food Financing Task Force.
The recommendations report “Supporting Grocery Development in Ohio” identified the need to establish a healthy food retail financing program in Ohio.
- Caroline Harries, Associate Director at The Food Trust in Philadelphia, talked about their work with the Task Force to map the state for healthy food access gaps and identify major policy and programmatic issues in Ohio. She also discussed the effectiveness of the healthy food financing program in Pennsylvania, and how this model could be applied in Ohio to improve health outcomes and promote economic development.
- Dr. Mykeisha Williams Roberts, Deputy Health Commissioner in Columbus, talked about their work to identify health issues in the city’s neighborhoods, and specifically those that were occurring because of the lack of access to healthy foods, which contributes to diet related diseases.
- Michelle Moskowitz Brown, Executive Director at Local Matters, discussed the important role that education plays in changing buying, cooking and food purchasing habits. She noted that Local Matters’ earliest strategy was a year-round hands on curriculum called Food Matters, which was aimed at kids, who are part of the decision making process in their households. When they learn how to grow and cook food from around the world, as they do in their classroom, their consumption increases and their choices influence the household.
In the Q & A that followed the presentations, many people supported the idea that fresh food retail is an important component of neighborhood revitalization in urban areas. Others raised important questions about the linking of urban and rural areas through local food system programs, helping farmers to produce for local consumers (rather than large commodity distributors), and other ways of improving community health.