Friday, July 21, 2017

Introduction to adult food can be a big turning point in a child's nutritional health; program in 22 counties helps poor get local food

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Taste preferences are established early, and that's why those early bites of ice cream matter.
A program that helps low-income families who use food-assistance programs to get locally produced food gets additional funding.
A group in Louisville is working on opening a community-owned grocery store.

These were just some of the topics discussed during the July 12 "Food in Kentucky" webinar, sponsored by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

Ana Chang, founder of Concept Hatchery, a California consultancy, opened the webinar with findings from her company's research with the 1,000 Days project, which looks at the nutritional health of mothers and their children during the 1,000 days from pregnancy to a child's second birthday.

Chang said her research involved 19 mothers from Kentucky, California and Mississippi, with varying levels of income levels. The study looked at what the children ate and how the mothers decided what to feed them, through food journals and in-person evaluations during meal and snacks.

All of the children started out on equal footing because they were all fed either formula or breast milk, Chang said, but the nutritional value of their food changed quickly when they started eating adult food.

"The first taste of food that babies get are really often what the family eats; they are not specialized for babies. And so the taste preferences are established really early. Even as young as four months or younger, babies might be given a finger that's been dipped in soup that the family is having, or a lick of ice cream," she said. "So how well that family ate, that's how well that baby is going to eat as it starts growing up."

Chang noted that one of the Kentucky families in the study was part of a diabetes-prevention program that provided fresh produce to the whole family, even though only one family member had been diagnosed with the disease. "That is the kind of intervention that we need to start thinking about," she said, "because once food is brought into a family kitchen, it becomes available for everybody."

Chang noted some nutrition challenges for the low-income families in the study, including: lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, transportation barriers, lack of a safe place to store foods, and a lack of a cooking space. She said almost every family in the study struggled with food bounty and scarcity issues which were tied to the arrival of their paychecks and food stamps.

Martin Richards, executive director of the Community Farm Alliance, said his 32-year-old group focuses on agriculture and family farming policy because policy can affect the most people, but also supports non-legislative initiatives that reinforces the bills they are trying to pass.

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One of those projects is Kentucky Double Dollars, a program that allows low-income families who use food-assistance programs to double their purchasing power at participating farmers' markets and retail stores in 22 Kentucky counties.

The program allows those on food stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or the Women, Infants and Children program to double the value of their SNAP or WIC dollars to buy Kentucky-grown produce, meats, eggs and dairy products. The double dollars program is also available to seniors who are part of the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program for Kentucky-grown produce only.

"We saw the huge amount of money that comes into Kentucky from federal food nutrition programs and we saw this as a way to get that money to support local and regional food systems," Richards said, adding that the program recently received an additional $1.4 million from federal, state and private-sector funding to help sustain it. (The program was formerly called "Double Dollars," but recently changed its name to Kentucky Double Dollars after it merged with the Bluegrass Farm to Table and the "Bluegrass Double Dollar" programs in Lexington.)

This season, 27 Kentucky farmers’ markets, 12 Fresh Stop Markets in Lexington and Louisville, and Good Foods Co-op in Lexington and Lexington Market East End, are participating in Kentucky Double Dollars.

Other CFA initiatives include a program that gives children vouchers to use at participating farmers' markets; a program that allows health-care providers to prescribe fruits and vegetables as part of a treatment plan; a program that provides food to children in the summer; a walking program that links farmers' market vouchers to community exercise goals; a school-based program that encourages students to drink water; and healthy cooking classes.

The CFA also offers technical and financial support through a 50-50 cost-sharing arrangement to communities that want to create a farmers' market. "When a farmers' market has somebody dedicated to help making that market run, even if it is just part time and seasonal, it makes a huge difference to that market," Richards said.

In another part of the webinar, Cassia Herron of the Louisville Food Co-op said her group is working to open a community-owned grocery store in one or more of the neighborhoods in Louisville's urban core. She said this group is working to hire a project manager who will lead and launch a capital campaign for this project, which they hope will come to fruition within the next two years.

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