Community Food Security, Food Safety, Diet and Health

A key tenet for the Virginia Farm to Table Plan is that quality food should be affordable and accessible to everyone in Virginia regardless of socioeconomic means. Since a food system encompasses the production, processing, distribution, sales, purchasing, preparation, consumption, and waste disposal pathways of food from field to fork, there are opportunities for strengthening and enhancing community food security, food safety, diet and health through improvements in these pathways. The Virginia Farm to Table Plan seeks to advance the health and well-being of Virginians at the community and state level. The recommendations below are directly from pages 33 and 34 of the Plan.

Objective: To identify ways to improve the integrity of the regional food system to ensure adequate access and amounts of nutritious, safe food to all individuals and households in the Commonwealth.

Benefits of recommendations: To promote awareness of food insecurity and diet related health issues in Virginia; long term reduction of health care costs through health education; development of Best Management Practices (BMPs) and Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), which ensure the production of safe fresh meats, produce and value added products.

From a policy and planning perspective, the availability of healthy and unhealthy foods in a community is dependent on the proximity and availability of food outlets to schools and residential areas; prevalence and types of food outlets available in communities and neighborhoods; the presence of and participation in food and nutrition programs in a community, and local policy and regulatory framework. Communities and groups should give ample consideration to these factors in addressing food access, diet and health at the local level over time.

Possible partners: The University of Virginia, Society of St. Andrew, Jefferson Area Board for the Aging, SustainFloyd, Virginia Cooperative ExtensionFederation of Virginia Food Banks, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Division of Soil and Water Conservation, Virginia State University, Virginia Tech, Virginia Department of Health, Virginia Department of Social Services, USDA Food and Nutrition Program and others.

1.1 Identify programs/curricula in Virginia (or elsewhere) that focus on healthy eating and cooking with local and regional foods, focusing first on hands-on, experiential school programs to empower K-12 youth and then to a broader community with topics including:

a. Food choices/origins
b. Safe food preparation and preservation
c. Home and community gardening
d. Food waste awareness
e. Composting and alternative reuse options.

1.2 Assess school, organizational, community and media outlets (e.g., TV and radio) interest in offering educational programs or strategies to their audiences.

1.3 Gather and disseminate baseline data on local/community diet and health, food deserts, access and availability (i.e., proximity, transportation, financial/economic, other) to local, regional food systems.

1.4 Conduct ongoing assessments of diet and health, food deserts, access and availability (i.e., proximity, transportation, financial/economic, other) to local, regional food systems.

1.5 Conduct a cost and ecological analysis comparing local/ regional foods to foods purchased and transported from other states, regions, and countries.

a. Consider economic costs, direct, indirect and induced
effects, and ecological footprints,
b. Create educational materials and/or a social marketing
campaign to share findings from the analysis and
embed materials within educational programs/curricula
identified under 1.1.

1.6 Expand the following programs statewide to improve food security, prevent land-filling of recoverable food and encourage reuse:

a. Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) and Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Programs (SNAP) at farmers markets
Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) operations,
b. community gardening,
c. urban agriculture,
d. food gleaning network,
e. hunters and anglers for hunger, and
f. food diversion and composting.

1.7 Establish a community food system recognition program and a central information hub for hospitals, restaurants, schools, universities and other institutions to award and voluntarily list commitments to procurement of locally-grown Virginia foods.

1.8 Establish Virginia as host site for the Food Corps program, similar to Virginia Tech’s Sustainable Food Corps, to give young adults work and skill training, while addressing food access and security issues.

1.9 Provide education, training and technical assistance to help under-served and disadvantage individuals and communities living in rural or urban food deserts establish home and community gardens to grow healthful food for themselves, their families and neighborhoods.

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