Genesee County Organizations Collaborate to Create Healthy Local Places
The Genesee Middle School District (GISD) and the Crim Fitness Foundation (Crim) offer a variety of hands-on education programs that encourage youth and adults in Genesee County to eat healthy and move more. The two organizations are also advancing policy, systems and environmental (PES) change strategies that address barriers to making healthy choices more accessible to county residents.
This work is made possible in part by funding from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP-Ed) of the Michigan Fitness Foundation (MFF). MFF is a state implementing agency of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for the education component of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP-Ed is a US Department of Agriculture educational program that teaches SNAP-eligible individuals how to live healthier lives. MFF offers grants to conduct SNAP-Ed programs throughout the state of Michigan.
Physical activity program in a Flint city park.
When it comes to the work of PSE, collaborations are key and the GISD and Crim collaboration illustrates the synergy and success that can result. When the two organizations joined forces to explore the needs specific to the Flint area, two priority need areas were identified: lack of access to nutritious food and the need to educate the community about programs available to help them. access to healthy foods. To address these needs, GISD and Crim turned to evidence-based SNAP-Ed PSE strategies.
SNAP-Ed educators from the Crim Fitness Foundation lead a virtual session at Eisenhower Elementary School in Flint.
Both organizations offer direct nutrition education to students. Knowing that many families have access to food in area pantries, they began working with pantries to help students and their families ensure they could practice healthy eating behaviors. they learn in class at home. Using the Voices for Food (VFF) Toolkit, they provide pantry staff with the tools and information needed to help people connect with healthy food. This work strengthens learning for students and their families and increases nutrition security and access to healthy foods for a diverse clientele in communities with high poverty rates in Genesee County.
“People really depend on the emergency food system, food pantries and food distribution centers,” says Samantha Farah, food systems and nutrition manager at Crim. “We are working to support and strengthen this system because it is robust here in the city.”
Participants enjoy an adult learning cooking class.
As Crim and GISD deepened their work with food pantries and continued discussions on how to overcome barriers to accessing healthy foods, they recognized that taking a broader approach to examining and changing the factors that impact the local food system was a logical next step. With that in mind, they determined that perhaps it was time to create a local food policy council.
“Having a food policy council also aligns with some research from a four-year assessment of Flint’s food system,” says Leah Cox, project manager at GISD. “The preliminary results of this research revealed that our community could really use a food policy council. These two things happening at the same time really inspired us to ask ourselves, ‘How do we create a food policy council? ‘”
Again, starting with their work with food pantries, they held monthly Zoom meetings with Genesee County food pant managers and staff. The meetings began in September 2020 and provided valuable insight into work that could improve the local food system. Resoundingly, the comments reinforced that having a functioning food policy council could help coordinate local food networks from farm to customer. They learned that they could increase healthy food selections for people who depend on pantries and other places where people shop and, therefore, increase nutrition security in the community.
“The board was created from our SNAP-Ed work,” says Farah. “We were able to find champions, so right now the Food Policy Council is a functioning network of collaboration. This work on policies, systems and environmental change is really key to our success. We want to make these changes large-scale, lasting community change You cannot do this in isolation.
To ensure this is a community effort and support its mission of “a strong, sustainable local food system that provides all residents of Genesee County with affordable, healthy food,” the Flint/Genesee Food Policy Council is currently recruiting stakeholders from various sectors across the county. Organizers invite area residents, business owners, local government officials, farmers, school personnel and others involved or interested in their local food system to get involved. Cox and Farah provide support by identifying and engaging a wide range of food and health-focused community partners to help lead the work.
“The council provides a place to bring ideas to life, talk about our community’s needs and gaps, and create action or change around those in a collaborative and strategic way,” Farah said.
Students enjoy MI Apple Crunch day.
Through their SNAP-Ed programming, PSE work, and collaboration, GISD and Crim are opening up access to nutritious food across the county. And, through their work on the Food Policy Council, they are on their way to raising awareness in the area of programs available to help Genesee County residents lead healthier lives.
“Seeing all the people who have joined the board from different sectors so far, people who can really make a difference in our community – it’s exciting,” adds Cox.