Recap of Market Umbrella’s Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program

Original article by Market Umbrella from (April 2, 2015). Link to the original article here

*Since this article was released, the program has ended for the season. While running, it was extremely successful.

Market Umbrella Awarded Nearly $400,000 to Increase Access to Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for Low-Income New Orleanians

New USDA Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive grant program funds expanded Market Match SNAP incentive program at the four locations of the Crescent City Farmers Market and pilot program at Circle Food Store

NEW ORLEANS, LA, – Market Umbrella, the New Orleans-based 501(c)3 non-profit that operates the four locations of the Crescent City Farmers Market and serves as a regional mentor and national model for farmers markets, has been awarded $378,326 from the United States Department of Agriculture‘s (USDA) new Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant program. This funding will allow Market Umbrella to offer its Market Match program, which matches SNAP purchases of up to $20 per visit to the Crescent City Farmers Market (CCFM), year-round, rather than seasonally. These matching funds may be used to purchase fruits and vegetables directly from local farmers who sell at the CCFM. Market Umbrella will also pilot a similar incentive program at Circle Food Store and work with owner Dwayne Boudreaux to increase the store‘s local produce offerings.

Market Umbrella Executive Director Kathryn Parker says: “We are thrilled to be selected for inclusion in the FINI program for the expansion of Market Match. We know that all residents in New Orleans love good local healthy food found at the Crescent City Farmers Market, but some lack the resources to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. Expansion of Market Match through this FINI program will provide additional education and encouragement for people to utilize their SNAP benefits at the Crescent City Farmers Market, keeping more dollars in our local economy. We look forward to partnering with the Circle Foods store to create the Circle Match program which will encourage even more residents to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables they eat.”

A pioneer in healthy food incentives, Market Umbrella launched its Market Match program for SNAP shoppers at the CCFM in 2009, with support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Kresge Foundation. Since then, SNAP sales at the CCFM have increased 348%. Market Match incentivizes SNAP participants to spend their benefits with local food producers, maximizing the impact these federal dollars have on our local food economy. The goal of the new Market Match project is to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables for low-income New Orleans residents through year-round expansion of SNAP incentives offered at CCFM locations and the initiation of a similar incentive program in a locally and minority-owned grocery store, Circle Food Store. Market Umbrella will convene a community-based project steering committee to advise on expanding its existing Market Match incentive program and transitioning it to one in which incentive funds may only be spent on fruits and vegetables.

Dwayne Boudreaux , owner of the Circle Food Store, says, “We are so excited to be a part of such a wonderful and necessary program. We have strived to offer quality produce and fresh foods to our community for decades, and we know that the FINI program will allow us to educate and serve even more people in our community who are in desperate need of quality fresh foods and produce.”

FINI is a joint effort between USDA‘s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and USDA‘s Food and Nutrition Service, which oversees SNAP and has responsibility for evaluating the effectiveness of the incentive projects. FINI brings together stakeholders from distinct parts of the food system and fosters understanding of how they might improve the nutrition and health status of SNAP households.

All FINI projects must (1) have the support of a state SNAP agency; (2) increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables by SNAP participants by providing incentives at the point of purchase; (3) operate through authorized SNAP retailers; (4) agree to participate in the comprehensive FINI program evaluation; (5) ensure that the same terms and conditions apply to purchases made by both SNAP participants and non-participants; and (6) include effective and efficient technologies for benefit redemption systems that may be replicated in other states and communities. The FINI program is authorized and funded by the 2014 Farm Bill. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill. More information can be found on the NIFA website.

Market Umbrella, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, cultivates the field of public markets for public good. The organization utilizes its Crescent City Farmers Markets as platforms for innovation, learning and sharing with the growing field of public markets. More information at marketumbrella.org.

Second Harvest expands program to reach children in Bywater and Algiers

Original article by Jaquetta White at The New Orleans Advocate (July 18, 2015). Link to the original article here.

New Orleans children get free meals from Second Harvest, with 2 new locations this year

Danterry Brown and Derrick Watson made a pit stop Wednesday on their daily trip to the Alvar Branch Public Library, where they like to read “big, chapter books” like the ones in the “Harry Potter” series.

At a table just outside the library doors, the 10-year-olds picked up snacks and cold drinks to beat their midday munchies and the heat.

For the sixth year, the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana is providing meals to area children as part of the Summer Food Service Program.

The program is open to children who qualify for reduced-price meals from the National School Lunch Program and those who come from households that receive food stamps or other benefits.

Second Harvest is delivering breakfast, lunch and a snack to children at 37 schools, churches and community centers that host summer camps in Orleans Parish. The program also has 16 sites in Jefferson, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Evangeline, Iberville, Iberia, Vermilion and Lafourche parishes.

The program provided about 200,000 meals last summer.

In an effort to reach more children, the nonprofit food bank has added two “open sites,” locations without a summer program, to its rotation this summer. Those meals are being handed out to children at the Alvar Library in Bywater and the Algiers Regional Library in Algiers, two neighborhoods where Second Harvest found there were “pockets of need,” spokeswoman Terri Kaupp said.

“We know that there’s a need outside of camp. There are kids whose parents can’t afford to send them to camp,” Kaupp said. “This helps us reach those kids as well.”

In Louisiana, nearly a quarter of the state’s 1.1 million children younger than 18 are at risk of hunger, according to U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by Feeding America, a nonprofit network of food banks. Children who are at risk of hunger have limited or uncertain access to adequate food because of the economic and social conditions of their households.

“During the summer, we see the need go up at the food bank because families are having to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Kaupp said. “During the school year, some meals are generally taken care of because of the free and reduced lunch program.”

Only a few children turned out Wednesday to pick up a lunch of pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, and carrots and peas at the Alvar location, where the program is offering lunch to children Monday through Thursday until Aug. 6.

Among them was Shaun Vincent, a rising fifth-grader at Arise Academy who is interning at the Alvar Library this summer and learned about the program from his co-workers. It saved Shaun, 10, from having to walk home to make a sandwich for lunch, though he eyed the meal’s applesauce with some trepidation.

New program to recognize healthy New Orleanians while promoting a culture of health

Original article by Fit NOLA on www.nola.gov (June 05, 2015). Link to the original article here.

Fit NOLA, Whole Foods Market and Humana Rock ‘N’ Roll New Orleans Launch Healthy Hero Program

NEW ORLEANS – Today, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Fit NOLA initiative and Whole Foods Market together launched Healthy Heroes – a program to celebrate community members leading healthy efforts across New Orleans. The Healthy Hero program will give New Orleans residents an opportunity to receive recognition for their work in creating a culture of health within the metro area. Fit NOLA and Whole Foods Market aim to improve health outcomes for residents by promoting the resources and opportunities to access physical activity and healthy nutritional avenues.

“Fit NOLA creates cross-sector partnerships that identify and assist residents with connections to healthy options,” said Charlotte Parent, director of the New Orleans Health Department. “With services and commitments from Whole Foods Market and the Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon, the city can celebrate and recognize those that take action and help reach our goal of becoming one of the top ten fittest cities in the United States.”

Each month, residents are invited to nominate a Healthy Hero online before the designated deadline for a chance to be selected as that month’s sole winner. Nomination questions focus on the environment Healthy Heroes create for themselves and others. Healthy Heroes who are selected each month will receive recognition from the Fit NOLA partnership, a Whole Foods Market gift card paired with a healthy-eating tour of Whole Foods Market’s Broad Street location, and a complimentary entry into the Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans marathon, half marathon or 10k races.

The first nomination deadline is Friday, June 19.

To learn more about the Healthy Hero program, please visit http://nola.gov/health-department/fit-nola/healthy-hero/

About Fit NOLA

Fit NOLA, created by Mayor Landrieu, is an effort of over 200 community partners focused on access and resources surrounding physical activity and healthy nutrition with backbone support from the City of New Orleans Health Department. Fit NOLA is working to make New Orleans a nationally regarded fit city by 2018 through activities to increase awareness, build capacity, and set standards to promote healthy lifestyles.  Learn more at fit.nola.gov or by following Fit NOLA on Twitter: @FitNOLA.

About Whole Foods Market®

Founded in 1980 in Austin, Texas, Whole Foods Market (wholefoodsmarket.com, NASDAQ: WFM), is the leading natural and organic food retailer. As America’s first national certified organic grocer, Whole Foods Market was named “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store” by Health magazine. The company’s motto, “Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet”™ captures its mission to ensure customer satisfaction and health, Team Member excellence and happiness, enhanced shareholder value, community support and environmental improvement. Thanks to the company’s more than 88,000 team members, Whole Foods Market has been ranked as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” in America by FORTUNE magazine for 18 consecutive years. In fiscal year 2014, the company had sales of $14.2 billion and currently has more than 420 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. For more company news and information, please visit media.wfm.com.

About Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon & ½ Marathon

The 7th annual Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon, ½ Marathon & 10K will take place on Sunday, February 28, 2016. This fast, flat course gives runners a first class tour of historic New Orleans, the sounds of live, local bands rocking every mile of the way, plus enthusiastic cheerleaders that keep participants energized. The event concludes with a huge finish line festival complete with headliner concert, food and drinks. A two-day Health & Fitness Expo kicks off race weekend at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center. The expo will have more than 60 vendors featuring the latest in running gear, nutrition and training tips. To register for the race or for more information, visit runrocknroll.com

Renaissance Project increases food access through technology

Original article by Sandy Carter on foodtank.com (November 28, 2014). Link to the original article here.

New iPhone App Strives to Increase Food Access in New Orleans

In the city famous for beignets, Po’boys, and gumbo, many residents of New Orleans, Louisiana do not have access to affordable, healthy food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Access Research Atlas, large swaths of New Orleans are food deserts—these are neighborhoods that are typically more than a mile from a supermarket. Last month, however, New Orleans residents gained increased access to healthy, affordable food through a new iPhone application. In partnership with Top Box Foods and Aisle Won, the Renaissance Project launched the free NOLA Food Partnershipapp in order to connect residents to fresh produce and frozen groceries.

“In a place like New Orleans, no one should go hungry,” explains Greta Gladney, the founder of the Renaissance Project. Since 2001, the Renaissance Project, a community development non-profit, has strived to improve the quality of life for low-income communities of color, particularly by increasing access to food. In October, the Renaissance Project partnered with Top Box Foods, a non-profit that offers high-quality affordable food to residents of food deserts, and Aisle Won, who manages pilot cellular apps that connect individuals to food growers and producers.

The NOLA Food Partnership app allows residents of New Orleans to purchase food boxes from Top Box, at roughly half the cost of average grocery store prices. According to Top Box, volunteer support and low overhead costs allow them to maintain their reasonable prices.

Unlike food at a grocery store, app purchased food is only available once a month. All orders must be placed by the second Saturday of each month, so the food boxes can be compiled and ready for pick-up at one of the thirteen designated churches and community centers across the city. App users can pick from the seven boxes offered, which include items such as fresh or frozen fruit, vegetables, and meat. Most of the food is purchased from food producers and brokers who typically supply restaurants and catering companies in the area.

After ordering, customers have the option to purchase their groceries with cash, credit cards, or food stamps, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)/Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT). Allowing customers to pay with food stamps may be particularly relevant in Louisiana, where almost 20 percent of the population relies on SNAP to buy groceries, compared to the national average of 15 percent. Mike Kantor, co-chairman of the New Orleans Food Policy Advisory Committee, recentlyhighlighted the importance of encouraging residents to use food stamps to access innovative food programs, “when we talk about food deserts, we can’t just focus on location and geographic access. We have to talk about economic security, which means talking about programs the people going to shop at stores rely on in order to afford the produce that’s sold there.” As the new app gains users and supporters, paying with or without food stamps, it could begin to increase food security in regions of New Orleans.

Improving health outcomes for youth through Summer Employment Program

Original article by Sheila Stroup in The Times Picayune (June 6, 2015). Link to the original article here.

Renaissance Project’s Summer Youth Employment Program creates higher expectations in young people

Last year, when Dayette Hopkins heard about the Regrowing Community Summer Youth Employment Program, she decided to apply for it. Even though she was not quite 15, she was excited about the idea of going to work and making her own money.

“My dad and I sat down and talked about it,” she says. “He told me it would be a lot of responsibility, and I told him I wanted to do it, so we filled out the paperwork.”

Now Hopkins, who will be a junior at the International School of New Orleans, can’t wait to go back to work this week.

Her favorite part of her job last summer was working with elderly people at a senior center in the Lower 9th Ward.

“They really touched my heart,” she says. “I’m a really shy person, and I overcame my shyness. Now, they love me, and they want me to come back.”

Hopkins also liked getting a paycheck every two weeks.

“I bought everything I needed for school, and I even had a little left over to help my dad,” she says. “My father and I both think the program is great.”

The summer employment program is part of the Renaissance Project, the nonprofit organization Greta Gladney founded in 2001. Her aim was to improve the quality of life in her neighborhood, the Lower 9th Ward, by increasing access to healthy food and providing educational and economic opportunities.

As time passed, she expanded to include low-income communities of color throughout New Orleans. The Renaissance Project has been a Second Harvest member agency for several years and operates food pantries around the city.

For the second summer, it will nourish young people in another way. The Regrowing Community Summer Youth Employment Program, envisioned by Gladney and funded by a generous grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, enables the Renaissance Project to hire 60 young men and women, ages 14 to 20, for summer employment.

“We pay them a living wage of $10 an hour,” Gladney says. “My concern working with youth and with families was to give them higher expectations, expectations other than a minimum wage job.”

There had been other summer employment programs in the city where young people earned around $5 an hour, but she didn’t think that was enough.

“If we only paid them $5 an hour, then a minimum wage job would look really good to them,” she says. “To break the cycle of poverty, we have to raise expectations.”

Gladney knew the only way they could pay $10 an hour, though, was to get funds from somewhere. Besides paying the young people for working, she would need money to feed them lunch and help with transportation costs.

So she contacted the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

“To my surprise and delight, they gave me everything I asked for,” she says.

Last summer, the young people interned with such nonprofit organizations as Junebug Productions, Boys Town of New Orleans, Kids Rethink, BreakOUT! and the Lower 9th Ward Village.

“This year we’d like to get businesses involved, too,” Gladney says.

Several businesses have already agreed to host students, including Stella Jones Gallery, St. Roch Market and Hewitt & Washington Architects.

The program starts this week, and there are still a few slots available for summer interns and opportunities for local businesses and nonprofit groups to get involved. The students will work 25 hours a week for six weeks.

“For some last summer, that was a significant amount of income for their household,” Gladney says.

The program begins on Thursday, June 11, with a 2-day orientation, which will include a segment on fiscal literacy. Last summer, the students had a rude awakening when they received their first paychecks and saw that they were less than they expected. They didn’t know about deductions.

“The students from last year’s program helped us shape the program this year,” Gladney says.

Interns will learn how to be responsible citizens and will develop leadership skills. They’ll learn how to conduct themselves at job interviews and how to write a resume. They’ll learn the importance of being on time and how to work with other people.

“We’ll teach them how to conduct themselves in a business environment,” Gladney says.

Brandon Marcadel, 20, graduated from McDonogh 35 in May 2014 and was in the first group of interns last summer. He worked at Students at the Center, an independent nationally-recognized writing program operating out of McDonogh 35. He wrote essays, led discussions and mentored younger students. Because of the program he ended up changing his major at Xavier University during his freshman year.

“I decided I wanted to be an English teacher,” he says.

And because of the program, he also got his first car before he went off to Xavier.

“I made enough for the down-payment, and my mom is helping me pay for it,” he says. “My mom loved the program. She thought it was great that I spent the summer gaining more knowledge and getting a little money before college.”

This summer, he’s working at Stein Mart and looking forward to his sophomore year at Xavier.

For Ciera Steward, a senior at Lake Area New Tech Early College High School, her job last summer was memorable.

“I got to see new faces and do things I never did before,” she says. “I felt like I was in the business world.”

Steward, 18, was one of four interns who worked at the Renaissance Project office at 5234 North Claiborne Ave., and at the senior center on the first floor in the same building.

“One of the things we did was travel around to the other sites to take pictures and talk to the workers and write a blog about the program,” she says. “We got to work with people we’d never met before, and it helped me realize what the real world is like.”

Steward plans to go to nursing school after she graduates, and she’s looking forward to another summer working with the Youth Employment Program.

“I’m on dance team and volleyball team at school, so I’ll save the money I make for expenses and for my senior budget,” she says.

For Audrey Browder, administrative assistant at the Renaissance Project, the most remarkable thing about the Regrowing Community Summer Youth Employment Program was seeing how the teenagers changed over the summer.

“It was great to see them work together and learn to support each other,” she says. “It was exciting to watch them grow up.”

Threat of hunger looms over summer vacation for kids

Original article by Casey Quinlan at Think Progress (May 27, 2015). Link to the original article here.

Summer Vacation Means Millions Of Low-Income Kids Could Go Hungry

As school ends and summer vacation begins for K-12 students across the country, plenty of children will be excited to take a break from tests and homework and spend time with friends. But summer vacation often means something different for low-income children who relied on school for regular meals.

During the 2014 fiscal year, over 21.5 million children qualified for the free and reduced-price lunch program, but only 2.7 million children used the national summer food service program daily. A survey by No Kid Hungry, an organization that seeks to raise awareness about childhood hunger, released this month, showed 83 percent of educators worry that their students will not have enough to eat this summer and 75 percent say their students come to school hungry.

According to a 2013 report by Children’s HealthWatch, “Too Hungry to Learn: Food Insecurity and School Readiness,” food insecurity in early in a child’s life has long-term effects. Teenagers who had insufficient nutrition in infancy were more likely to have lower test scores on achievement tests, as well as more likely to skip a grade. The report also showed that food insecurity is tied to iron-deficiency anemia in young children, which hurts the development of basic motor skills and social skills.

Although programs such as Early Head Start are meant to counteract these problems, only 192,664 children were enrolled in the program in 2013. In the 2014 fiscal year, 927,275 children were enrolled in the regular Head Start program for children 3 years old and older.

What’s worse is that some of the programs designed to reach low-income kids may not be effective. For example, the national summer meals program, which was designed to serve low-income families missing sufficient nutrition in the summer, doesn’t reach a lot of families because 80 percent of children from low-income backgrounds spend their time at home in the summer, not at a community program, according to No Kid Hungry’s analysis.

Because federal law requires the food be eaten at the site, the organization worries that the program is also ineffective. Kids may struggle to get to sites where it’s offered due to severe weather that often shuts down sites in the summer and the fact that low-income families struggle to pay for transportation.

No Kid Hungry suggested a Meals on Wheels program for kids to make sure they get the nutrition they need, especially since a third of low-income kids live outside predominantly low-income communities, which is where the meal sites are often located.

The government is aware of some these limitations, which is why, in 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave guidance to regional directors of special nutrition programs that allows some flexibility by letting sponsors provide food by bus or other vehicles. That allows the meal service to still be supervised and for the kids to eat “on site” in the bus or near the drop-off location. The number of kids reached through mobile food programs is unknown, however.

Second Harvest Backpack Program to tackle weekend hunger

Original article by Second Harvest Food Bank in Food for Thought newsletter (May 2015). Link to the original article here.

Saving Children from a Weekend of Hunger

Many students in South Louisiana look forward to the weekend, but there are some that dread the end of the school week.

Why? These kids simply do not have enough to eat at home.

Every Friday, the Second Harvest Backpack Program provides extra take-home food to more than 1,500 children in our community. It is a program that site coordinator Cindy Lester of Lyon Elementary School in Covington says has made a major difference in the lives of her most at-risk students.

“If the students aren’t receiving good nutrition or proper meal balance at home, they’re able to receive some nutrition here at school, during the week. Before the Backpack Program, the children would come in on Monday and around midmorning, they’d start asking what time was lunch. Those kids, you wonder if their last meal was last Friday here at school.”

Major sponsors of our Backpack Program this year include C&S Wholesale Grocers, Chevron, Cleco, Marques Colston, United Way of St. Charles, and Valero. Cleco General Manager Eric Schouest says programs like Backpack are essential to the long-term health of both the children and the community.

“Without a doubt now, two years into the program, we’re certainly seeing success, and we could not do it without an organization like Second Harvest,” Schouest said.

Cindy Lester says seeing the children get the extra food they so need is rewarding, but also heartbreaking.

“Early in the year, we contacted a student recommended for the program by his teacher. When we talked to the student to see if he would be comfortable doing it, he was very hesitant. He finally asked us, ‘Will my two younger sisters get food too?’ I hugged him, and it gave me a great sense of pride to know that, no matter how great their need is, these kids still have that love and concern and compassion for others.”

Our Backpack Program is only possible through your extraordinary generosity. Your ongoing support ensures that the neediest kids at schools like Lyon Elementary continue to receive enough healthy food to get through the weekend and come to school on Monday ready to learn.

Proposed sugar sweetened beverage tax faces opposition

Original article by Adriane Quinlan in The Times-Picayune (May 15, 2015). Link to the original article here.

Sugar state sour on Louisiana Lawmaker’s soft drink tax

In a state infamous for obesity, a Louisiana lawmaker has put forward a bill to levy a penny tax for every teaspoon of sweetener in soft drinks. The revenue would help supply fresh fruits and vegetables to Louisiana’s 246 “food deserts.”

But the proposal is not going down so sweetly in a place where iced tea and Barq’s flow as steadily as water and sugar cane production exceeds that of all states but Florida. “It’s a sensitive issue for us simply because sugar has been part of Louisiana’s heritage and culture and certainly our economy for 220 years,” said Jim Simon, general manager of the Thibodaux-based American Sugar Cane League.

Rep. Ebony Woodruff, D-Terrytown, says it’s a necessary step. “In Louisiana, you can walk outside and see we’re suffering from obesity,” Woodruff said. “I’m hoping to disincentivize consumers from purchasing those beverages.”

Woodruff’s proposal, House Bill 811 would add a 1-cent tax for every teaspoon of sweetener – including sugar, corn syrup and any “caloric sweetener” – contained in a beverage sold in a store or restaurant. Exceptions are provided for most alcoholic drinks, fruit and vegetable juices, milk and infant formulas. Drinks with zero calories would not see a tax. A 12-ounce can of regular Coca-Cola at the corner store would be taxed 9.3 cents, a penny for every teaspoon, or every 4.2 grams.

The tax would raise an estimated $60 million per year:

  • $40 million split evenly between the Office of Public Health and the Department of Education, for programs to address the effects of obesity and to promote healthy nutrition.
  • $20 million to fund the Healthy Food Retail Act, a 2009 law that has never been backed with money.

The 2009 law provided an organizational structure to send fresh produce to Louisiana’s 246 food deserts, areas considered to have little or no access to fresh produce, meat, and dairy products. With cash, the retail act would provide grants and loans to markets that offer fresh produce in under-served areas, an idea modeled on Pennsylvania’s Food Trust. John Weidman, Food Trust’s deputy executive director, said Louisiana hopes to expand on New Orleans’ success with the Fresh Food Retailer Initiative, “not only increasing access to affordable, nutritious food but also creating jobs and supporting the state’s economic vitality.”

Woodruff’s proposal might be the first of its kind in Louisiana, but it echoes attempts to pass similar taxes in states such as California and Vermont. So far, only one local soft drink tax has passed: a penny-per-ounce tax that Berkeley, Calif., voters approved in November.

Soft drink taxes have been unpopular with voters, said William Dermody, vice president of policy at the American Beverage Association. “The public are very opposed to taxing common grocery items,” Dermody said. “We believe in choice. It’s a family’s choice and a consumer’s choice to decide what they want.”

And consumers already are educated, Dermody said, as beverage containers are printed with detailed nutritional information. “People need to be educated about balance. We all do. And when you educate people with clear calorie information and let them know what they’re eating and drinking and that they have to balance it with physical activity, that works. That we know.”

About one third of Louisiana adults are obese, ranking the state sixth in the country,according to a study of 2013 data by the non-partisan non-profit Trust for America.

At Tulane University’s Prevention Research Center, which seeks to address problems of obesity and provided information to the authors of the Healthy Food Retail Act, advocacy program manager Adrienne Mundorf described the threat of Louisiana’s love affair with sweet drinks. In New Orleans, one third of high school students drink at least one soft drink per day, she said. Past that, “each additional sugar-sweetened beverage consumed per day increases the risk of obesity by 60 percent.” Adults who drink sweet beverages regularly are more likely to suffer from a gamut of health problems, including heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Louisiana’s consumption of soft drinks has reached the point where residents annually drink 160 million gallons of sugar-sweetened beverages – or the contents of 242 Olympic-size swimming pools, Mundorf said. That’s a flip from Louisiana’s past, when soft drinks were a rare treat and sweet tea was limited to the quiet end of a hard day’s work.

At Swamp Pop, the Lafayette-based artisanal soda company, co-founder John Petersen is hoping to sway consumers back to thinking that soft drinks are special. Flavors such as praline cream and filé root beer are sweetened with raw cane sugar, not corn syrup.

“Our sodas are meant to be savored. They’re for times spent relaxing on the porch. There was an age when a trip to the soda fountain was seen as a treat,” Petersen said. “As a society, we generally understand with food what items should be enjoyed in moderation and what items are staples of our diet. But we’ve been led away from that sense of understanding when it comes to beverages.”

As for Woodruff’s bill, he said educating consumers would be better than taxing him.

At the American Sugar Cane League, Simon wondered whether the tax would even be feasible to institute, what with a tax amount per beverage, per size. And what about a Starbucks coffee with two squirts of hazelnut? “There would have to be the caloric sweetener police, to calculate how you do it,” Simon joked.

Woodruff heard the protest. She didn’t mind, although her bill remains stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee..

“It has been heavily opposed,” Woodruff said. “Hopefully, we can start the conversation and hopefully in the future it will pass.”

ReFresh Project impacting New Orleans

Original article by Judy Walker in The Times-Picayune (October 24, 2014). Link to the original article here.

How ReFresh Project, a post-Katrina milestone, built a healthy food hub, including Whole Foods

When the Original Pinettes Brass Band leads a second-line to the rooftop of the old Schwegmann’s on North Broad Street around noon on Saturday (Oct. 25), it will kick off the opening party for ReFresh Project‘s fresh food hub in Mid-City and mark an important milestone in the neighborhood’s post-Katrina recovery.

The ReFresh Project is a collection of community-minded businesses and educational entities that includes Liberty’s Kitchen, a restaurant and youth culinary training program; the Goldring Center for for Culinary medicine at Tulane, a national model of a healthy foods teaching for medical students, doctors and community members; and a Whole Foods market, which promises a commitment to local products as well as instruction on healthy cooking and budget shopping.

Hundreds of people and dozens of community groups have spent years on the effort, which has gradually been adding partners to create a vibrant collection of educational, nonprofit and business partners.

The money to make it all happen has been cobbled together from a variety of sources. For example, check out the dark-green picnic tables and building materials for the raised garden beds on the rooftop of the old Schwegmann Bros. grocery.

“We didn’t have money to do the farm. Somehow we got hooked up with Garnier, who does projects with Terracycle,” a company who recycles the beauty company’s plastic waste into make the green boards, said Lisa Amoss, president of the board of Broad Community Connections, the developers of the ReFresh Center. “They donated $140,000 worth of materials, dirt and compost.”

Katrina births community involvement

Now retired, Amoss, who is the sister-in-law of NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune editor Jim Amoss, taught organizational skills and management in the Tulane School of Public Health, and at the University of New Orleans she taught collaboration.

“I worked with nonprofits for years,” Amoss said. “I’ve been on a number of boards, but never anything like this. It’s gratifying to see it work. And to work with all these young people, who want to be in New Orleans, and who wanted to come back to New Orleans. It keeps you young.”

Amoss has lived in the Bayou St. John neighborhood for 31 years. Like many others, she said, she started going to community meetings after Hurricane Katrina and the floods. She became more aware her neighbors, their needs and desires and wondered: How could these neighbors be brought together?

Broad Street runs through several neighborhoods, including Esplanade Ridge, Mid-City, Treme, Bayou St. John, part of the 7thWard and the part of Tulane being transformed by new medical complex.

Amoss and others formed “a little nonprofit,” Broad Community Connections in 2008, with people from all of the neighborhoods. And they started planning.

“I was lucky enough to know Karl Seidman, a professor at MIT in urban planning. He loves New Orleans and came down here after the storm. He’s a national expert on Main Street organizations, and he kind of advised us.”

At one point, Seidman brought his entire class to New Orleans to help plan.

The group applied to the National Trust for Historic Preservation community revitalization project. The program included no urban streets at the time, Amoss said, but several New Orleans thoroughfares applied through the state level and were accepted after Katrina. Broad Street was approved in 2009. (Also currently in the Louisiana program are St. Claude and Rampart Streets, Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard and Old Algiers.)

The Main Street section of Broad is 15 blocks from Tulane Avenue to Bayou Road.

“Karl advised us that one way to start was to try and do a significant project to get going. This is hard when you have no money, or only a little bit of money.”

The biggest derelict property on Broad Street was one of the original Schwegmann Giant Super Market.

“We really had no business thinking we could do this, but we signed an agreement to purchase it from the owners,” Amoss said. “Then, we set out to make it happen.”

Raising awareness and calling in experts

Occasional events on the site brought neighbors together and got them used to going to the old Schwegmann’s Giant Supermarket. Events included flea markets, roof-top movies and a festival called Broad Street Brew-Ha-Ha celebrating beer and coffee. (This festival may return in spring, Amoss said.)

It took quite a few years to find the right partner and get the funding for redeveloping the building, Amoss said, which eventually was an $18 million project. Broad Community Connections partnered with L+M Development, the biggest affordable housing developer in New York City. L+M was in New Orleans to redevelop the Faubourg Lafitte mixed income community, formerly Lafitte public housing development.

“They’re experts on tax credit deals, and helped put together” the $18 million project. The tax credit financers are Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase; other public funding came from the City of New Orleans’ New Orleans Redevelopment Authority; the city’s Fresh Foods Retailer Initiative to get fresh food into underserved neighborhoods; Foundation for Louisiana; Low Income Investment Fund; Newman’s Own Foundation; Hope/Enterprise Corporation of the Delta and the Ruth U. Fertel Foundation.

Broad Community Connection owns 20 percent of the ReFresh project building; L+M owns 80 percent.

“Because it’s so hard to get funding right now for nonprofits, a lot of nonprofits are looking for earned income,” Amoss said. “A share of the net rents of the building will go back to support our part of the organization. It’s not a huge amount of money, but at least it’s contributing to the public organization.”

One of nonprofit’s jobs was to find tenants for the site.

Luring tenants who fit the mission

“We knew that we would want a healthy grocery store here because the neighborhood is underserved,” Amoss said. “Whole Foods was our first choice.”

It turned out that Amoss had taught at Tulane with an old friend, John Elstrott, chairman of the board of Whole Foods. Amoss screwed up her courage and asked if Whole Foods could be a tenant.

It was good timing. Whole Foods was looking to be in more markets where it could promote healthy eating, and already had a contract for the first one in Detroit.

“They knew the Esplanade store was the first in the country, and knew that the Magazine Street and Veterans locations were booming and hard to get into,” Amoss said. “They wanted an alternative. And they liked the idea of being here, and in partnership with other people in the building.”

Along with Whole Foods, the hub has pulled together various entities, creating a community-minded collection of health-minded tenants:

Liberty’s Kitchen, which was originally located in a smaller building on Broad Street near Tulane Avenue, moved into the downstairs of a law office.Its new 10,000-square-foot site will allow the nonprofit organization to enroll more students in its full-time, 12-week program, which includes a Starbucks and barista program as well as a cafe open for breakfast and lunch.

The Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine, dedicated to teaching doctors about food and nutrition, so they can teach their students, moved here from the old Ruth’s Chris Steak House building on the corner of Tulane and Broad. They built a state-of-the-art teaching kitchen, for medical students, medical professionals and community members, on the first floor between Whole Foods and Liberty’s Kitchen

Upstairs are offices for Firstline Schools, the five charter schools who have Edible Schoolyards as a teaching anchor. An nearby community room, funded through the Ruth U. Fertel Foundation, provides a light and airy space adjacent to the rooftop that’s already been well used. Another tenant, downstairs on the Bienville Street side, is Boys Town.

And there is a small office for the Broad Community Connections Main Street executive director Jeff Schwartz. A paid director is one of the requirements of the Main Street program.

“He was at Ben Franklin with my kids, and happened to be in Karl Seidman’s class at MIT,” Amoss said.

Working together

The ReFresh NOLA Coalition includes all of the tenants and about 20 other organizations around the city that offer different services related to health and nutrition. The Prevention Research Center at Tulane University is designing evaluations for all these wraparound health services, measuring the efforts of the healthy-living hub.

For example, when people come to the doctors at the Tulane clinic with illnesses that can be addressed with a better diet, they come out with “health prescriptions.”

“Whole Foods had community health workers,” Amoss said. The workers take the holders of such prescriptions around the store and show them how to buy foods on the prescription affordably.

“It can be done,” Amoss said, noting that this store has greatly expanded its 365 line of house brands. Whole Foods is enthusiastic about replicating all this in Newark, N.J., in what will be their third urban market, she said.

At the Goldring Center, prescription holders can learn how to cook healthier foods, and at the farm, they can learn to grow the foods they need.

The new gardens here are about 6,000 square feet of raised beds, on the rooftop and perimeter of the building.

“We will be selling some of the produce to Liberty’s Kitchen and some on Good Eggs,” said Emily Mickley-Doyle, who with Matt Glassman coordinates the ReFresh Community Farm. The two will give individual and group gardening classes on a regular basis.

The fence in the middle of the raised beds outlining the garden areas will be used to grow vining crops, Glassman said. Passersby can help themselves.

The gardens are part of the city-wide network of Parkway Partners community gardens, as well as three urban garden groups: SPROUT NOLA, Harambee Community Farms of New Orleans and Faubourg Farms.

A block away is the Lafitte Greenway, “a great partner with us,” Amoss said.

The list of Broad Community Connections partners in as long as an heirloom cucuzza squash. Along with Parkway Partners, the Joan Mitchell Center, Whole Foods, SPROUT NOLA and more, 60 trees have been planted on Broad Street and Bayou Road.

In the mid 20th century, Broad Street was known for its neon signs that shone at night. One of the Broad Community Connections projects is to bring those signs back. The nonprofit worked with the Arts Council of New Orleans, with $25,000 from the National Endowment of  the Arts, to create neon signs for some of the iconic businesses on Broad.

Look for the neon on the headquarters of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, while you’re looking admiring the new trees on Broad Street.

Connecticut’s “sugar tax” bill first in the nation

Original article by Bill Cummings in News Times (March 10, 2015). Link to the original article here.

Sugar tax a slurp closer for Connecticut

HARTFORD — A bill which would make Connecticut the first in the nation to slap a penalty tax on sugary soda products passed a legislative committee Thursday and moved a few inches closer to becoming law.

The General Assembly‘s Committee on Children also passed a bill banning marketing of unhealthy food on school grounds.

“(The bill) has good intentions, but unintended consequences,” said Melissa Ziobron, R-East Haddam, who added her town’s baseball fields have scoreboards proclaiming sponsorship by Coca-Cola.

Meanwhile, the surgery soda tax bill, sponsored by state Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, drew the most attention.

“I think we are missing a point here identifying sugar,” said state Rep. Pam Staneski, R-Milford, who voted against the bill.

“We will see a rise in buying high concentrated fruit juices, which have a high sugar count, and Gatorade,” Staneski said. “Putting a tax on this will drive families trying to conserve dollars to the juices.”

The version of the bill passed Thursday does not include an earlier clause to also tax candy. Instead, the one cent per ounce tax would only apply to soda with high sugar content.

For a 20-ounce bottle of Coke costing $1.50, the tax would hike the price to $1.70.

Revenue from the tax would be used to fund programs to reduce heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

State Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington and the children’s committee chairwoman, said even if the bill does not become law — she acknowledged similar efforts failed in New York City and California — the discussion helps educate the public about the dangers of surgery drinks.

“The more we put this out there I think we are educating the public because we are highlighting the issue,” Urban said, referring to obesity and other diseases linked to surgery food products.

State Rep. Noreen Kokoruda, R-Madison, said the tax will not deter children from buying soda.

“I can’t imagine a 12-year-old going up to the counter with his father’s $5 bill and making a decision not to buy soda because there is a tax on it, and then buy something else instead,” Kokoruda said.