The responses to the Freshest Cargo truck have been really positive, said Danielle Hamilton, Education Program Manager at Fresh Approach. One of their regular visitors explains that in their hometown of Antioch, California, finding fresh produce is difficult, as “the closest decent grocery stores are over 10 miles away.” Additionally, prices, sustainable farming, and CalFresh discounts make this truck a great addition to the community. (Photos courtesy of Fresh Approach)
“This program has changed our lives!” one Veggie Rx participant exclaims. He explains that until he enrolled in the nutrition education program, he and his son struggled with finding affordable, healthy food since his wife passed away.
He isn’t alone—one in eight Californians struggles with food insecurity, estimates the California Association of Food Banks. Traditional solutions to food insecurity include food banks and pantries, but these short-term, superficial fixes often don’t address the root causes of educational and resource asymmetry.
Developing a longer-term solution entails an understanding of why so many Californians — and Americans — are food insecure. The reasons vary, from living in a food desert to the expense of fresh and healthy food. It’s important to understand that the history, culture, and circumstance of every community varies, and thus, the solution will too. A genuine understanding of the particular challenges community members face will lead to an effective and empowering solution rather than one that exclusively provides resources.
One Bay Area nonprofit does just that. Fresh Approach empowers people to make healthy food choices through active community involvement. The organization aims to build sustainable solutions to food insecurity, from the ground up. Fresh Approach has three programs: the Freshest Cargo mobile farmer’s market truck, the Collective Roots project, and Veggie Rx. Fresh Approach has clear, long-term goals for the communities it serves, rather than providing short term aid. I spoke to Danielle Hamilton, Fresh Approach’s Educational Program Manager, about the organization.
“I think many people take a limited view on food insecurity,” Hamilton says, maintaining that most superficial solutions ignore the interrelated sociocultural factors that lead to and perpetuate the problem. “Addressing food insecurity requires providing access to affordable, culturally appropriate foods, and empowering the community with the knowledge and skills needed to prepare and cook with healthy foods.”
Fresh Approach views the problem as an issue of education rather than exclusively resource access, illustrating the importance of meeting people where they are at in terms of their long-term health goals. Framing easy access to healthy foods changes the way people view food as a means to live to a way people can take ownership of their health. This paradigm shift is key to building a demand for healthy food across communities where it is not readily available.
Hamilton is one of the educators for the nutrition class series. The lesson starts with discussion of a relevant health topic facilitated by a nutrition educator. The discussion functions as a baseline to hear the ideas and questions of those in the class, so the educator can see how the health issue actually manifests itself in the community. This is followed by a recipe demonstration and taste test.
One of the main problems Fresh Approach is tackling right now is tracking the long-term effects of its curriculum. They’re starting to see how program participants implement the strategies they learn after the classes have ended.
“We are working on strategies to create and measure behavior change in our shorter-series workshops,” Hamilton explains, with the end goal being creating community advocates for healthy, local foods. Food advocacy is an incredibly important aspect of food insecurity: fostering a demand for local, fresh produce where it isn’t already available is the first step to actually meeting this goal.
Food insecurity involves many environmentally-related fields as well as socioeconomic factors. When addressing a problem this large, such as healthcare or food insecurity, it is important that an organization looks at the bigger picture to create a model that can feasibly be implemented in long term and minimize consequences across the board. It may be a more difficult solution, but a solution that leads to less downstream problems and a greater understanding of the situation. For example, Fresh Approach focuses on local food and supporting California farmers, a focus that other organizations do not have.
“We take a broader view of food security that acknowledges climate change, and the need for our globalized industrial food system to change to a more sustainable model,” Hamilton says. “Smaller-scale, biodiverse farming helps preserve the health of the soil and entire ecosystem so the land remains healthy and productive.”
Fresh Approach operates under a paradigm that those trying to make a difference should all consider: anything we do has spillover effects, and trying to create a long-term impact entails lifelong consequences on both the environment and the people living in it. Hamilton hopes that in five years, the organization can both partner with health advocates and develop deeper relationships with the communities it serves to provide more of a holistic approach to food insecurity.
Understanding of community and environmental health are key to solutions that move our society forward, for creating initiatives that take root in the communities they are there to serve.
Hamilton says the basis for all policy or program development should be in the leaders of the community you are attempting to serve: “Learn from the community experiencing barriers to healthy food access, and listen to their suggestions and inputs on what is needed.”
Indeed, assistance should come through understanding, and that begins with learning before you teach.