Eating healthy, not surprisingly, requires a careful recipe: knowledge, time, access, and affordability. So what can our communities do to improve the quality of food in low-access areas, and help families make healthy changes to their diets? Health and food equity advocates have worked through countless experiments — converting corner stores to healthy retailers, offering Double Up Food Bucks at farmers’ markets for low-income families, mobile vending, and more. At MoGro, we’ve found that at least in New Mexico, access is just one piece of the puzzle. Community partnerships, and extensive support and educational resources have become key tactics for combating health inequity across the value chain.
MoGro (Mobile Grocery), a project of the Santa Fe Community Foundation, is a nonprofit mobile grocery initiative working to support sustainable local food systems and eliminate barriers to affordable healthy food. MoGro works in low-income, rural, and tribal lands, partnering with Pueblo communities, the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, La Montañita Co-op, and Skarsgard Farms to address healthy food access in low-income and underserved regions of New Mexico.
Across the state, MoGro has been working with tribal leaders and low-income communities to help us think more strategically about healthy food access. In regions where liquor stores outnumber grocery retailers 18-1, and the average low-income family spends 30 percent of their income on food, families face a difficult combination of access barriers.
But grocery access alone may not bring change quickly enough. In several communities MoGro serves, we partner with senior centers, the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program, public health clinics, and community outreach programs to work collectively on workshops and events to generate wide community interest in making healthy choices. With surveys administered by the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, we’re finding that a significant number of families are beginning to make changes to their diets, and reporting the desire to make even more.
In the summer of 2015, MoGro plans to take a greater step toward full family health. Modeled after the Fruit & Vegetable Prescription Program (FVRxTM) created and popularized by Wholesome Wave, MoGro will roll out a Healthy SNAP program at Santa Fe’s La Familia Medical Center, to offer SNAP-eligible patients a full spectrum of wraparound support for their diabetes or diet-related diseases. Families enrolled in the program would meet with a nutritionist to establish family-based health and dietary goals for a year-long program. Then, monthly follow-up visits with a community health worker would include cooking and nutrition classes, helping families purchase fresh produce, and evaluation of health outcomes.
Thanks to incredible funding support from USDA’s NIFA Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program, MoGro will also provide $100,000 in food subsidies to participants. Families enrolled in the program will receive a dollar-for-dollar coupon toward fruit and vegetable purchases, a critical resource to improve family well-being. Over the course of the project, families will increase their fruit and vegetable consumption, gain new knowledge about diet and nutrition, and observe decreases in weight and body mass index.
With this innovative blend of prevention strategies spreading across communities, we’re looking to advance local capacity beyond direct retail. By providing access to resources that can empower families, and addressing health in a holistic manner rather than in isolated interventions, MoGro is eager to see just how these approaches can help achieve real health equity in New Mexico.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Healthy Food Access Portal.