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Farming and Community Health

How does the protection of farmland correlate to the health of a community? Kane County, Illinois is working to find out.

Over the past ten years, their farmland protection program has preserved over 5500 acres of farmland in the county and they are currently considering a new amendment to broaden investments in local food production. New investments would include small farms and organic farmers producing fruits, vegetables and meats, intended to increase availability of fresh produce in schools, farmers markets, corner stores, and other sites in the community.

Enter the Health Impact Project. HIP is a project funded by the Pew Charitable Trust and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to fund Health Impact Assessments (HIA) that will be used to inform policies at any level of government. Kane County won funding from this project and is expected to produce their HIA next month with measurements from their community. The HIA will assess the ways in which their new amendment could affect the health of local residents through, for example, changes in availability and price of fresh fruits and vegetables, food safety, and economic changes resulting from increased food production in the region.

HIAs are conducted by a panel of stakeholders in the community to ensure that they are engaged in considering health and health disparities with any given policy. The assessment is completed in six steps:
A Health Impact Assessment has six steps:

  1. Screening: Determines the need and value of a HIA;
  2. Scoping: Determines which health impacts to evaluate, the methods for analysis, and the work plan for completing the assessment;
  3. Assessment: Provides: a) profile of existing health conditions, and b) evaluation of health impacts;
  4. Recommendations: Provides strategies to manage identified adverse health impacts;
  5. Reporting: Includes development of the HIA report and communication of findings and recommendations; and
  6. Monitoring: Tracks impacts of the HIA on decision making processes and the decision, as well as impacts of the decision on health determinants.

Kane County hopes to use this assessment to inform the debate surrounding their new amendment, hoping that they will find it could lead to improved health.

The Health Care Council of the Lehigh Valley is doing similar work much closer to home. They created a forum process where they engaged stakeholder organizations from the Valley to discuss their input on community health, and held two series of meetings. In the second set of meetings, they were able to bring back results and analysis from the first round. Participants in the forums were asked what they thought the biggest health concerns in the region were, what would help their community become healthier and what leads to health problems in their area. They were asked follow up questions to these in the second round of meetings.

In these public meetings held last fall, they found that the health care system and services are fragmented, that there is a lack of communication and connection between the community and care providers as well as poverty, lack of jobs and language differences being barriers of access to medical resources. There were also positive findings, the community responded that the local health care providers care about the community and were willing to listen to their needs as well as looking for short and long term solutions to improve community health. Their Community Health Profile breaks down their findings and the particular issues in each city, and can be found here.

Envision Lehigh Valley’s Public Meeting Results Are In!

Through their website, Envision Lehigh Valley received a total of 1,118 completed surveys as well as feedback from 47 public meetings that were held through the fall. The breakdown of the participants represented an  accurate cross section of our regional population on the   characteristics of race, age,   income and location.

In the 47 focus groups that were held during the public meetings, Lehigh Valley residents appeared to be most interested in discussing economic development, which they saw as a positive thing for the region.

They mentioned large projects currently being undertaken across the Lehigh Valley. Participants discussed projects such as the hockey arena, casino, and ArtsQuest. Projects involving specific companies, including Ocean Spray, and the Lehigh Valley Hospital Expansion, were mentioned as well as more   generic business expansions like the Allentown waterfront      project, the P&P Mill, and new hotels and retail space in various locations.

Focus group participants were generally dissatisfied with the types of jobs available to Lehigh Valley workers and didn’t believe the job market matched the qualifications most workers have.

The groups also examined other topics; citizens talked 652 times about housing, 549 times about fresh food access, and 378 times about climate and energy.

One of the most interesting findings to come out of the focus group analysis is that the overall interests and topics of discussion varied very little in the different cities, boroughs, and townships where they were held.  These  commonalities suggest that quality of life factors in the Lehigh Valley are important across the valley, not just in one or two communities.

Read the full report, including  survey results and focus group discussions, right here!

Fresh Food Access and Pricing

The Greater Lehigh Valley chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local (BFBL-GLV) has released a study that counters the popular perception that prices at farmers’ markets are more expensive than at grocery stores. (Click here to read the complete study on the pricing of farmers markets compared to grocery stores) No significant price difference was found between the two venues in the LehighValley. In fact, “Because there was a wide price range for produce at the Lehigh Valley farmers’ markets, it was always possible to find less expensive produce there than at the grocery stores,” says study author and Lehigh University Community Fellow, Laura Schmidt.

The study included pricing data for nine seasonal products (produce, meat and eggs) collected in the fall of 2012. Data was collected from four LehighValley farmers’ markets and two grocery stores and accounted for both organic and conventional growing methods.

“This study challenges the myth that food at farmers’ markets is always more expensive than at grocery stores.” says BFBL-GLV Director, Lynn Prior. “In addition, it shows that seasonal, locally-grown foods can be very affordable and cost less than food imports at grocery stores.”

The study will be incorporated into an Assessment Report for a Fresh Food Access Plan being developed as part of EnvisionLehighValley, and funded by a HUD Sustainable Communities Grant. Fresh food access forums for public comment will be hosted  in March 2013 by Buy Fresh Buy Local and the Nurture Nature Center. (Visit www.envisionlehighvalley.com for event schedules and updates.)

The report will look at the assortment of businesses and relationships involved in moving food from our local farms to our tables.  While there’s been great success with direct sales from our local farms to consumers, we are not doing as well getting local foods to wholesale buyers.  Infrastructure is critical to move local food to wholesale buyers.  The report will examine what we have and need in terms of infrastructure to scale up our local food system.

There are four designated food deserts in the LehighValley.  The USDA defines a food desert according to census tracts.  Communities qualify as food deserts if they meet two criteria:

  • low-income communities (a poverty rate of 20 percent or more); and
  • low-access communities (at least 33% of the population lives greater than 1 mile from a large grocery store).

Consumers in the LehighValley spend $1.5 billion on food each year; less than one percent of this is purchased directly from our local farms.  The result is that most of our food dollars are leaving our region through purchase of food imports.  By increasing the amount of food purchased from our local growers, we can help make farming more profitable and ensure that farmland & healthy, flavorful food will be available for future generations.  At the same time, we will also be investing our food dollars locally and creating jobs right here in the Lehigh Valley.

BFBL-GLV is a program of the NurtureNatureCenter, a 501©(3) organization. BFBL chapters across Pennsylvania are coordinated by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), on behalf of our national partner, Food Routes Network.

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