Health is Wealth

Image Courtesy of City Harvest

Image Courtesy of City Harvest

As a New York City resident for the past ten years, I’ve become familiar with City Harvest through initiatives such as its “brown bag” direct mail campaign or signs in restaurants, such as Le Pain Quotidien, announcing that leftover food will be donated to City Harvest’s food rescue program. According to its website, City Harvest, a 32 year-old food rescue nonprofit, is the “largest publicly supported hunger relief organization in NYC, helping feed more than 1.4 million people who face hunger each year.”

What I didn’t know about City Harvest, however, is that it has taken its commitment to feeding New Yorkers to the next level, through its Healthy Neighborhoods initiative. Started in 2009, this initiative seeks not only to relieve food insecurity in some of New York City’s most underserved communities, but it also strives to increase access to healthy food. Healthy Neighborhoods also gives community residents the tools they need to understand the benefits of certain food choices and how to cook with the healthy food that City Harvest provides.

City Harvest’s first step towards creating Healthy Neighborhoods was the implementation of nutrition education classes in 2000. Partnering with community organizations, City Harvest provides residents of all ages with the “skills and confidence to prepare healthy meals.” They offer cooking demonstrations, shopping workshops and, through the City Harvest Fruit Bowl, bring fresh produce and food education to pre-school and after-school students. Most importantly, they give individuals the opportunity to lead these initiatives within their own community through nutrition education training programs. Through these trainings, volunteers are empowered to make an impact on the nutritional health of their own community. A calendar of volunteer training and orientation sessions can be found on City Harvest’s website.

City Harvest’s second step in realizing Healthy Neighborhoods was the 2004 launch of its Mobile Markets, which are farmers’ market-style distributions that allow City Harvest to bring around 150,000 pounds of free fresh produce to communities across the five boroughs each month. These Mobile Markets also include on-site cooking demonstrations based on the produce being offered that day. Again, City Harvest relies on the members of the communities it serves to volunteer to staff the Mobile Markets, distributing thousands of pounds of fresh produce to their neighbors.

According to City Harvest’s website, the Healthy Neighborhoods program currently includes five low-income neighborhoods in New York City, with the intention of inspiring long-term change. Located in each of the five boroughs, the Healthy Neighborhoods currently serves Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, the South Bronx, Washington Heights/Inwood in Manhattan, Northwest Queens, and the North Shore of Staten Island. These neighborhoods were carefully selected due to unusually high poverty and obesity rates. The City Harvest website shares information on the need and actions being taken in each neighborhood on its website. For example, in the South Bronx, City Harvest reports a poverty level of 40 percent, with 68 percent of the community reported as obese or overweight. As part of the Healthy Neighborhood initiative, City Harvest has not only delivered “4,781,443 pounds of emergency food” to the South Bronx in 2014, but it has also hosted “42 Mobile Markets serving 5,700 people with an average of 22,671 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables delivered every two weeks.” City Harvest also provided 18 nutrition education classes to local residents.

In addition to the programs listed above, City Harvest is also working with local markets and corner stores to increase the availability of fruits, vegetables and other healthy food options. In 2013, City Harvest helped transform a South Bronx Associated Supermarket into a “Healthy Supermarket,” providing ongoing access to fresh produce and meeting neighborhood residents where they already grocery shop.

Perhaps the most important facet of the Healthy Neighborhoods program is City Harvest’s commitment to increasing community engagement. The organization provides numerous opportunities (including the education training and Mobile Market volunteer opportunities mentioned above) for “community residents to be agents of change in their own neighborhoods.”

Through the Healthy Neighborhoods program, City Harvest has shown what can happen when organizations take a holistic approach to fighting hunger. To create lasting change, City Harvest does more than stock food pantries. They remind us that we must give communities the necessary education and resources to advocate for the health of their own neighborhood.

Check out a profile on Healthy Neighborhoods by The Daily Meal: http://vimeo.com/85585192

By Jenni Dickson

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1 Comment

  1. Juliana White

     /  February 10, 2015

    City Harvest is really an unbelievable organization and is imperative to the lives of so many in NYC. The healthy neighborhoods program makes me think someone is finally getting it! In order to change behavior (particularly health related behavior) it must be easy, accessible and sustainable. The combination of bringing the food thats desired to the people in need where they need it and teaching them ways to use the ingredients in a approachable way without being demeaning makes this a truly sustainable program. So often food programs are one dimensional and degrading. They either just drop food of lesser quality to farmers markets in low income communities or require demonstrations assuming that the reason for their health is because of they have never seen a vegetable before. When in actuality these people in the low income communities just simply don’t have the access to convenient fairly priced food and often have to make the hardest choices; be homeless with fresh peppers or have a home and eat whats available in their bodega. Another aspect of this program that I think makes it unique and respectful is offering the opportunity to volunteer with the healthy communities program. It allows the participants to suggest food thats widely liked and desired as well as give them a sense of ownership in pride instead of feeling like a charity case. This makes them a stakeholder in their own success, it give them a voice and there is nothing more important.

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