Flint’s local food movement innovates to increase healthy food access
Healthy food access is a key strategy in fighting lead exposure and improving one’s diet, and several innovative programs are up and running in Flint to increase the availability of healthy food in non-traditional ways.
The local food movement in Flint has been active for many years now, capitalizing on local strengths: Available land, knowledge and demand for healthy food and local food advocates in the community who have taken action while the conventional food system struggled to fill in the gaps.
Given the income and health realities already present in Flint and Genesee County, made worse by the recent lead in the water crisis, local organizations have collaborated to give Flint residents better access to healthy, fresh foods. Through edible flint (with the support of Michigan State University Extension) and aligned organizations like the Flint Farmers’ Market (a leader in utilizing innovative food assistance programs), the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, the Flint YMCA, the Genesee Conservation District, the Neighborhood Engagement Hub, and the Local Grocer, along with area growers (some of which offer Community Supported Agriculture CSA programs), access to healthy food, a key component of nurturing a healthy, productive community, has been increased.
Through funds that were raised in response to the water crisis, a Flint Fresh Mobile Market is offering a way for Flint’s residents to access healthy foods in underserved neighborhoods with transportation challenges. This mobile market provides a small, nimble and adaptive option with the ability to work around the limitations of a traditional retail operation, and was planned with a community participatory mapping exercise to define the areas of the city in highest need for increased access to healthy, lead mitigating foods.
A plan to establish a food hub aggregation space to bring together products from multiple producers to generate the volume required to cost-effectively sell to customers and potentially to businesses is underway. This plan supports the development of the Flint Fresh Veggie Box program, a subscriber-based produce delivery program aimed at ensuring that more Flint residents have access to fresh food, and that growers moving product have access to new markets and sources of revenue. This new program is scheduled to kick-off this month and online ordering has begun. The income stream developed by this subscriber-based model will support the long-term sustainability of the project by supporting more local growers.
Additionally, MSU Extension has received grant funding from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to work on another innovative program to increase access and availability to fresh produce, nutritious foods and healthier beverage options for Flint residents through the Refresh MI Store and Pantry program. New ideas on how to improve healthy food access are happening in Flint.