The Successes of and Challenges Faced by the Network for a Healthy California

by Joe

After our morning at ALBA and with out boxes of strawberries in hand, we went to the Monterey County Women, Infants and Children nutrition center (WIC) in Salinas. The WIC is part of a larger partnership, Champions for Change, Network for a Healthy California. In addition to helping pregnant and new mothers properly nourish their babies, they also promote nutritional literacy among the low-income residents of their community. We discussed the successes of and challenges faced by the Network in promoting the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. We spoke with a woman named Chris, who represented the WIC and Charmaine and Maggie, from Network for a Healthy California.

They have done remarkable work in recruiting farm stands to provide additional produce, in encouraging convenience stores with produce to put it at the front of the store, and other measures to encourage more physical activity and consumption of produce at the expense of less-healthy options that contribute to high rates of obesity, especially among lower income groups. Curiously, our speakers cited that apparently the growth in obesity in California has evened out for the first time since 1985. They said that these programs have been relatively well-received.  Being interested in popular science and health education myself, I was curious as to how exactly they spread their message and changed behavior. Simply making organic food more prevalent is important, but not the only means of encouraging the adoption of a healthier lifestyle. It turns out that they distribute vouchers (think food stamps for produce), host outreach days with cooking demonstrations, release promotional materials and more.

We even visited the stores after our visit, and found that the produce, which included some non-local crops such as coconuts, was indeed front and center in the store. It seems like their programs are going over well. I was a bit surprised at how receptive their audience has been (for the most part), but their success is reassuring, and means that their model might be scalable.Our conversation certainly gave us a lot of information to digest and connect to the other things we’ve learned in this course!

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A field of organic strawberries on an Alba farm we visited. These strawberries are one of the many fresh produce that low-income communities in food deserts need.

Organic farming is hard work. It requires particular ingenuity in that it forbids the use of most of the pest-control techniques used by conventional farms. Small-scale organic farmers (like those trained by ALBA) need a secure market, which they might just find through a partnership with the Network.

Organic farming is hard work. It requires particular ingenuity in that it forbids the use of most of the pest-control techniques used by conventional farms. Small-scale organic farmers (like those trained by ALBA) need a secure market, which they might just find through a partnership with the Network.

–Joe

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