For two years, the South Carolina Community Loan Fund (CLF) has worked to increase access to healthy food by providing financing for capital needs. While our focus has been on bringing healthy food retail to low-income neighborhoods, education and food preparation techniques have always been part of the discussion.
A recent NPR post poses the question, if you build it, will they come? The answer to this question came from a study conducted by Penn State University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Research findings suggest that access does not necessarily equate to higher levels of consumption or improved health indices.
Researchers offer two possible explanations for the findings. The first is the notion that it is human nature to follow routine. Despite the opening of the new, conveniently located grocery store with ample fruits and vegetables, many people will continue to shop where they know.
The second explanation is of great importance to CLF’s work: many people, especially those living in low-income neighborhoods, are not used to buying or preparing healthy food. Researchers agree that providing access to healthy food is only the first step. “The next part of the intervention is to create demand,” states Alex Ortega, a public health researcher at UCLA, “so the community wants to come to the store and buy healthy fruits and vegetables and go home and prepare those foods in a healthy way…”
Hub City Farmers Market (HCFM), a recipient of a CLF healthy food loan, has incorporated education into their program model. They have worked on many levels to educate consumers about nutrition and food preparation, including cooking demonstrations and a home-based education series. By combining access with education, HCFM is addressing the challenges many families face to eating healthy.
The best way for CLF to incorporate these research findings into the projects we fund is through the SC Food Access Task Force. This statewide collaboration of organizations combines resources that complement our financing through grass roots, community-based education opportunities. Together with our partners, we can be sure that communities that are provided access have the knowledge and ability to reap the full benefits of what the new healthy food retail outlet has to offer.
The SC Food Access Task Force, which consists of over 45 members from South Carolina health, policy, non-profit, and governmental agencies, will provide a set of public policy recommendations to address the barriers to equitable food access and set forth an implementation plan for a statewide, state sponsored Healthy Food Finance Initiative (HFFI). For more information, please visit www.scfoodaccess.com.