FOR RELEASE: May 6th, 2016, 8:00am EST
Contact: Dalila Boclin, Community Foodworks
NEW GEO-CODING HELPS VETERANS ACCESS HEALTHY LOCAL FRUITS & VEGETABLES
New Website Links Farmers Markets to Nearby Veterans Health Clinics
Washington DC, May 6th: A new interactive map that helps Veterans locate nearby farmers markets is now on-line and live at CFWDC.org/Veterans. This innovative website highlights farmers markets that offer affordable, healthy, local fruits and vegetables to nearby VA medical centers and clinics.
Community Foodworks, a nonprofit that works to increase food access among minorities and low income residents in the Washington DC metro area, launched May 6th, 2016 the easy-to-use platform that enables Veterans Administration nutritionists and social workers at over 1,000 VA health care facilities around the country to quickly refer Veterans to farmers markets where healthy, local fruits and vegetables are sold.
Approximately 6,400 of these markets and direct marketing farmers now have USDA’s EBT SNAP access equipment. Nearly 1.3 million Veterans with SNAP cards, many of whom often suffer from diet-impacted chronic disease, can now access fresh, local fruits and vegetables at these local USDA SNAP EBT-equipped farmers markets.
USDA Deputy Undersecretary Lanon Baccam, says “With nearly 200,000 service members separating annually from active duty military in the United States, we are glad to see that USDA data (AMS and FNS) has been helpful in the creation of this resource for Veterans. Service members are hard workers, innovative thinkers and fast learners, all skills and talents that the government and private industry value. USDA applauds non-profit groups, such as Community Foodworks, which is engaging with the USDA and Veterans Administration to support this innovative initiative.”
Dalila Boclin, Food Access Manager for Community Foodworks, said that the organization started thinking about this project in 2015. DC Veterans were coming to their farmers markets asking why there were no nutrition incentive programs tailored to Veterans. More than 1 million Veterans nationwide live with diabetes in addition to other diet-related chronic illnesses.
Recognizing that Veterans comprise a nutritionally underserved population,Community Foodworks began exploring opportunities to increase food access for DC and Northern Virginia Veterans. In partnership with the VA’s local DC Community Resource and Referral Center (CRRC) and timely funding support from individual donors, Wholesome Wave and the Mission Committee of Western Presbyterian Church, Community Foodworks was able to launch a small pilot that would test the needs of a Veteran-focused healthy food incentive program.
In 2015, Community Foodworks created the Veteran Vegetable Prescription Program (V2Rx), which provided $5, $10, and $15 vouchers that CRRC social workers could distribute among Veterans needing financial support to make healthier food purchases. These V2Rx vouchers were distributed weekly by VA social workers to encourage Veterans with SNAP cards to visit the Brookland farmers market regularly, redeem their vouchers, and also take advantage of Bonus Bucks, Community Foodworks SNAP doubling program-- all to purchase fruits and vegetables. Though a brief, 8-week and off-peak program, V2Rx saw a remarkable 42% redemption rate, demonstrating great promise for expansion.
This innovative Veterans nutrition voucher program “raised immediate interest from Veterans that came weekly to the market,” said Nick Stavely, Community Foodworks Market Manager. With this success, Nick and his colleagues started wondering how the program could be replicated in other areas. They wanted to know how far the VA Health Clinics were from Farmers Markets, and how VA nutritionists and social workers could easily link diet-impacted, SNAP-receiving Veterans with their local farmers markets.
Community Foodworks worked with Kris Lasko and Michael Humber at the University of Maryland’s Department of Geographical Sciences to develop this new geo-coded system to be used as a tool that could easily visualize the closest farmers markets to each VA Center. The map has already raised the interest of organizations invested in empowering Veterans to choose healthy food as part of their nutrition, and see it as a powerful tool to make regional programs more effective.
New York’s State Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “New York’s FreshConnect program has been successful in reaching Veterans and ensuring they have access to nutritious, fresh food in New York State communities. It is important to provide incentive programs and other tools to make those connections easier. We applaud efforts such as this to help Veterans easily locate their nearest farmers’ market and connect with the farmers that are growing healthy, local produce.”
Christine Going understands the importance of healthy diets with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Going, Chief Nutritionist at New York’s Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center, works with Veterans to improve their diets – and their health. She sees first-hand the benefits of New York State’s “Fresh Connect” program that provides Veterans with vouchers to spend on healthful produce at farmers markets. She is pleased with the potential of this new mapping software. “ We want to make an important impact in the lives of all the Veterans, helping them make better choices in support of their health is key to this effort.”
Farmers markets will also benefit from the map. Jen Cheek, Executive Director of the Farmers Market Coalition, a national nonprofit that supports and promotes farmers markets, believes that the “new mapping software will help the 8,400 farmers markets link with veteran medical centers and health clinics. It is an exceptionally innovative effort—timely and especially welcome as farmers and market managers reach out to Veterans to come to local farmers markets and use their USDA Federal nutrition benefits.”
Josh Protas, Director of Government Affairs for MAZON, a Jewish Response to Hunger, commended Community Foodworks for this innovative website saying, “Food insecurity among Veterans is an unfortunate and solvable problem that has persisted for too long. This new mapping software, together with support from VA social workers and nutritionists, holds great promise to better connect Veterans in need of nutrition assistance with fresh, healthy foods at farmers markets close to them.” Mr. Protas believes that a greater engagement of the Federal Government will help to leverage additional community investments to make a more significant impact. “Such innovative and exciting strategies, together with the active partnership of VA agencies and staff, have the potential to make an enormous difference for the millions of Veterans who struggle with food insecurity and diet-related health conditions,” added Mr. Protas.
Hugo Mogollon, Executive Director of Community Foodworks believes that this tool can have an additional impact. “This is a practical tool for policy and decision makers. This map provides data that members of Congress can utilize to instantly see the number of farmers markets in each of their districts. As farmers markets are now engaged with food access and nutrition efforts, we hope this map will also be a useful tool for members of Congress to easily spot underserved areas.”
Community Foodworks (community-foodworks.org) was founded in 2007. The team started the successful DC Columbia Heights Farmers Market and in 2016, will operate 8 farmers markets in DC and Arlington County Virginia. They operate nutrition incentive programs for SNAP, WIC, Seniors and DC Produce Plus at all DC Farmers Markets and a successful Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program at their Columbia Heights Farmers Market. Funding is provided by USDA’s Farmers Market Promotion Program, Western Presbyterian Church, local donors, the DC Department of Health, Neighborhood Associates, DC Greens, Ward 7’s Promise Neighborhood and Wholesome Wave.