So Good Smorgasbord of Community Solutions
Change on the Menu: Farm to ECE for the Nation’s Second Hungriest District
Norris Square Community Alliance
Local hospitals and universities
Peer community-based organizations
Norris Square Community Alliance; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The second hungriest Congressional district in the US (measured by levels of food assistance) is just three miles north of an icon of American Independence, the Liberty Bell. The Norris Square neighborhood of Philadelphia has experienced dramatic changes in its demographics, reflecting the diversity of an immigrant nation, as well as growing income disparity and its manifestation in terms of social determinants of health. Here, extreme health- related problems match the extremes of economic difficulty. Almost half of this district’s residents (43 percent) live at or below the poverty line. This neighborhood’s children might not live longer than their parents do.
In 1983, a group of local women formed the Norris Square Community Alliance (NSCA), putting the interests of the neighborhood at the center of its agenda. NSCA serves a community of approximately 136,000 people, providing services ranging from employment training, home ownership, and child and youth enrichment activities to urban revitalization, and acting as a connection point for social and economic well-being.
In 2016, NSCA is putting the health of its youngest members at the heart of its activities. Although it has introduced dietary changes over the past four years at ECE sites, partnership, funding, and interest have recently converged to roll out a program called “The Farm to Plate Healthy Initiative” which initially targets 700 children. Like all of the previous stories in this report, NSCA has forged cross-sector partnerships with those who share a similar conviction that all growing children deserve both high-quality nutrition and education. NSCA has engaged nearby Temple University to offer cooking and wellness classes to NSCA clients. Health Nutrition and Facilities Specialist Yoshiko Yamasaki works directly with kitchen staff at Head Start sites to implement and improve practices for preparing healthy, fresh foods for students. Yamasaki also works closely with parents and members of the community to develop attuned resources and opportunities for the community-wide health. NSCA recognizes that young children will model their parents’ behavior at home no matter how persistently healthy food is offered at school. So, the farm to plate initiative has a strong parent engagement component that offers events, workshops, and training so parents can begin to model new habits at home.
Recently, NSCA selected a new food distributor—Philadelphia-based Common Market, a mission-driven company focused on connecting Mid- Atlantic farmers to schools, hospitals, workplaces, and nonprofits. With Common Market’s support, and contributions from other community partners, NSCA has developed three main activities that define the Initiative’s mission:
1) combine a culturally- relevant farm to plate curriculum with a focus on gardening, nutrition, and physical activity,
2) develop a robust parent engagement component, and
3) offer a full spectrum of health and wellness opportunities to the community.
In the current year (2016) the program will continue to engage in planning and strategy, launching implementation in 2017.