Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Building Food Justice in East New York
NIEHS Grant: ES014315
Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Kimberly Beth Morland
The availability of healthy food options within a community greatly impacts the ability of residents to form healthy eating habits, and avoid nutrition-related health problems. East New York has a history of inequitable access to healthy food options. This has resulted in an alarming prevalence of nutrition-related health problems in the community.
In 2005, the NIEHS-funded Building Food Justice in East New York project set out to address East New York’s inequitable access to healthy food through the formation of a partnership between community members of the East New York (ENY) Food Co-op; a local health provider, Wyckoff Heights Medical Center; and an epidemiologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Since the project started a few years ago, it has increased access to healthy food options in ENY. The following highlights illustrate some of the project’s valuable contributions to the East New York community:
- The ENY Food Co-op. In late 2006 the project team opened the ENY Food Co-op. The establishment stocked its shelves with highly nutritious food items previously not available within the community. The Co-op quickly built its membership and has since maintained strong community support and patronage.
- Health education programs. The partners implemented a regularly scheduled health education program hosted at the ENY Food Co-op. Hunter College students provided nutrition education and cooking demonstrations to community members.
- Training program. The partnership developed and implemented an internship and train-the-trainer program to instruct medical and other college students on conducting and effectively managing community-based participatory research (CBPR) projects. In one project, students developed a guide to healthy eating in local restaurants.
- Health screening service. The project team provided an invaluable health screening service to the community on a weekly basis at the ENY Co-op location. Screenings measured blood pressure, glucose, total cholesterol, height and weight. Post-screening, health providers educated community members about the implications of their results and provided them with information about ways they can improve their health. Hundreds of community members used this service on an annual basis.
- Food store maps. The partnership collected information and developed maps illustrating the disparity existing in the distribution of food stores in East New York compared to neighboring areas. Surveys have also been conducted on the availability of healthy food options in these stores. Additionally, the researchers interviewed community members about diet, exercise, nutrition knowledge and self-efficacy.
- ENY Co-op Block party. An annual ENY Co-op Block party brought other community-based organizations together around issues of food justice. Various activities for adults and children focused on increasing nutrition and physical activity awareness.
- Farmers markets. The project has made an effort to connect community operated farmers markets (ENYFARM!) to food stores and restaurants in East New York. A wholesale marketing consultant worked with 50 different food stores and restaurants aiming to foster relationships between local growers and regular purchasing by the local bodegas and restaurants. Two bodegas and two restaurants committed to regular purchasing from the local growers. Other food stores and restaurants also showed increased interest in participating.
- Technical assistance. The partnership provided technical assistance to promote backyard gardening. A component of this initiative included a youth program offering job training skills and a stipend to assist older adults and families in growing their own fresh produce in East New York. Currently, 12 households are participating in the program.
- Capacity building. Locally, the partnership helped other groups develop similar food co-operatives, and worked with the Mayor’s office to bring attention to food access inequities throughout New York City. The partnership also participated on the national level, sharing successes and lessons learned with other community groups and health professionals across the country.
This project addressed nutrition-related health problems that arise from gaps in the availability of healthy foods in the East New York community by establishing a food co-operative, providing health services, collecting health data, and educating the community about nutrition.