NYLCVEF fights for healthy foods

January 23, 2014

At the Bronx District 15 City Council Candidate Forum on Sustainability last July, it was clear that access to healthy and nutritious food was a key concern for not only the 60 people who turned out to the forum, but also to local leaders and advocates who have been fighting for healthier communities.

Building healthier and more equitable communities requires a commitment to tackling all the contributors to poor health outcomes.

In parts of the Bronx, 4 in 10 adults report not exercising at all and 9 in 10 adults eat fewer than five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. The lack of healthy food, opportunity for physical activity, and proper nutrition and fitness education contributes to rising rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease throughout underserved communities in New York City. Children in these communities are affected by these factors at an early age and, without proper intervention, are at a high risk for developing chronic conditions later in life.

NYLCVEF teamed up with Mary Mitchell Family & Youth Center and Bronx Health Reach to tackle a local sustainability challenge. Our shared mission was to address the lack of access to affordable, fresh, healthy produce and the need to expand city programs that help low-income families access healthier foods.

As part of our partnership with these two Bronx organizations, NYLCVEF last fall knocked on about 4,000 neighborhood doors and collected more than 1,700 signatures in support of Health Bucks, a program that distributes $2 vouchers for every $5 spent on fresh fruits and vegetables by low-income families.

To follow up on last year’s work and set the foundations for future efforts, NYLCVEF, Mary Mitchell Center and Bronx Health Reach met on Jan. 22 with District 15’s new Council Member, Ritchie Torres, We delivered 1,772 postcards from residents urging him to support and expand the Health Bucks program.

Health Bucks, worth $2 each, are developed and distributed by the New York City Department of Health and can be used to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at all farmers’ markets in five boroughs.  Farmers’ markets that accept food stamps (SNAP benefits / Electronic Benefit Transfer – EBT) will give one $2 Health Buck coupon to each customer for every $5 spent using food stamps.

Health Bucks helps low-income families increase their buying power by 40 percent, and encourages them to spend more of their public assistance on fresh produce at farmers markets. This program has tremendous potential,  since 1 in 4 NYC residents are enrolled in some form of public assistance.

Health Bucks started in 2005 and is now the nation’s largest municipal farmers market incentive program. In a CDC study, researchers found that farmers markets offering Health Bucks coupons to food-stamp recipients averaged higher daily sales than markets without the incentive. The bottom line is Health Bucks is a win-win for the health of low-income families and the livelihoods of our regional farmers.

We are thrilled to report that Council Member Torres committed to not only to promote the Health Bucks program to all community-based organizations in his district, he committed to working with us to expand the Health Bucks program beyond farmers markets to other food retailers.

We look forward to working with Council Member Torres and the entire City Council to advancing these and other good sustainability policies in 2014!

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