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First Food System Baseline Report Unveiled at United Way

United Way of Southeastern Connecticut hosted the unveiling of Nourishing Change: The New London County Food System Baseline Report. It is the first comprehensive look at the county’s food system and includes in-depth reports on food access, community health, and the childcare and school food environments. The report is a collaboration between United Way and the New London County Food Policy Council, and its recommendations will guide the work of both organizations moving forward. Click here to download Nourishing Change.

The report provides an overall picture of the current state of health and food insecurity of the county, with the ultimate goals of reducing Nourishing Changehunger and food insecurity, improving the diet-related health of residents, and supporting the development of local agriculture. In many instances, the report is a call for more organizations and groups that touch the food system to work together on collaborative efforts and the distribution of consistent information and resources.

Food systems affect the economy, residents’ health, food security, and the environment. A food system consists of the processes of growing, harvesting, processing, transporting, marketing, consuming, and disposing of food. There is growing recognition that a comprehensive framework is required to improve health across the region efficiently and effectively.

“Food systems are a basic and central component of life in this country,” said Virginia L. Mason, President and CEO of United Way of Southeastern Connecticut. “No child should go to bed hungry.”

In the area of community health, the report cites that the rate of adult obesity in New London County is nearly 25% while slightly more than that same number of adults (27.4%) indicate they consume at least five servings of fruits or vegetables per day. Recommendations include coordination of nutrition education, availability of nutrition education resources for emergency food providers, and advocacy for workplace wellness.

In terms of food access, the rate of food insecurity in New London County is nearly 12% with a meal gap of nearly 5.5 million meals. In addition, several areas of the county including parts of Norwich and Groton were cited as “food deserts,” where there is limited access to a grocery store and/or public transportation options. Additionally, there is limited access and/or central information sources to locally grown or produced foods through farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture programs, and community gardens.

To improve food access, the report recommends, among other tactics:

  • Improved communication among emergency food providers;
  • Streamlining the emergency food ordering system;
  • Improving accessibility for those disabled and under sixty;
  • Increasing the number of SNAP (formerly food stamps) authorized farmers’ markets;
  • Create a central course for community gardens; and
  • Further investigation of transportation to food resources.

The final area of examination in the report is the school and child care food environments. The food insecurity rate among children in New London County is 16.9% while the low-income preschool obesity rate is 16.5%. Among school districts in the county, 17 out of 20 participate in the breakfast program and have Healthy Food Certificates and only eight of out twenty participate in a farm-to-school program.

The report recommends increasing participation in the school breakfast rates, Healthy Food Certification, and farm-to-school programs, conducting research with the aim to increase the total number of school gardens that teach children about growing their own food and where it comes from, and implementing healthy food policies.

Nancy Rossi, Managing Executive of the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center, notes that the report should “raise consciousness and awareness about some of our neighbors that are struggling as well as action so we can move forward.”

“It’s not a privilege to eat well,” Rossi continues, “It’s a basic human right.”