Whole Cities Foundation: an answer for food deserts?

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Whole Cities Foundation: an answer for food deserts?

Whole Foods Market announced its newest non-profit member yesterday, Whole Cities Foundation, described as an effort to "increase access to nutritious, fresh food and health education in underserved communities."

Food access near the ReFresh site in New Orleans, by USDA Food Access Research Atlas

Food access near the ReFresh site in New Orleans, by USDA Food Access Research Atlas

The company's choice for its first partnership, located in New Orleans, coincides with a greater national concern, formally defined in the 2008 farm bill: food deserts.

The initiative was launched in collaboration with the ReFresh Project at the grand opening of the market's third New Orleans store, housed inside in the project's facility on Broad Street.

ReFresh Project received recent praise from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation "as one of the most promising models for eliminating food deserts, revitalizing neighborhoods and building healthier communities," according to Whole Foods.

The USDA utilizes several degrees to map out drought, so to speak, within food deserts, defined broadly as an area with limited access to affordable and nutritious foods, particularly in low-income neighborhoods.

The original measure outlined the zones as low-income areas with a significant portion of residents at least one mile from a supermarket in urban areas, or 10 miles away in rural areas.

Expanded, the USDA has refined food desert mapping to include ½-mile and 1-mile demarcations to the nearest urban supermarket, and 10-mile and 20-mile demarcations to the nearest rural supermarket.

Taking a look at the Refresh location on Broad Street and Bienville, the 60,000-square foot facility is located in the center of an area with great nutritional access needs. A significant portion of the area surrounding the new Whole Foods' store falls within the USDA's expanded food desert criteria.

Nationally, the most recent data from the USDA's Economic Research Service estimates 23.5 million people live in food deserts, 13.5 million of which are defined as low income.

First steps for Whole Cities Foundation

The initial US$1 million investment from Whole Foods will provide US$10,000 to the ReFresh Project for its Community Health Outreach Program. The company will also collaborate with ReFresh and Tulane’s Prevention Research Center to develop a pilot program focused on training community health workers.

Foundation Executive Director Meredith Smith described the initiative as a potential model for other community health and wellness projects across the United States.

"We are excited to launch the Foundation by initiating and piloting programs in New Orleans, a vibrant city that is committed to being healthier and investing in educational resources that will help bring lasting change," she said in a press release.

Beyond the Whole Foods Market, Refresh's space - previously a Schwegmann's supermarket building - will include a Liberty’s Kitchen full-service café and commercial kitchen, and The Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane University.

ReFresh will also work with the Whole Kids Foundation, which currently funds 59 salad bars and eight gardens in New Orleans schools.

The Whole Cities Foundation is located in Austin, Texas, home to Whole Foods Market.


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