In America, no child should go hungry, and no parent should have to choose between eating healthy and eating enough. Established in 1933, the Farm Bill is the United States government’s primary vehicle for funding policies and programs relating to food and agriculture—from food safety and nutrition education to employment practices and conservation efforts. Every five years, Congress reauthorizes this sweeping piece of legislation in an effort to prevent hunger, bring fresh foods to communities lacking access, and add vibrancy and diversity to the local food system.
However, funding for critical programs that uplift our food system and provide nutrition benefits to millions of Americans is under threat.
The Trump administration announced its plans for the 2018 Farm Bill, including billions of dollars in cuts that would directly impact families and farmers across the country. The plan, which includes government delivery of a canned food box, has the potential to dramatically disrupt the American food system from farm to fork—exacerbating hunger and health problems, and resulting in store closings and job losses in urban and rural communities alike.
In the Philadelphia region, these issues threaten to dismantle a strong and thriving community foodscape — from food retailers in danger of losing their jobs to farmers at risk of losing their livelihood. Urban and rural communities are inextricably linked through the food system, and each piece of the Farm Bill addresses these connections in one form or another. Food ties us together; and together, we can ensure our food system is resilient, equitable and healthy for years to come.
Where you live can have a huge influence on your day-to-day decisions about what to eat. Over the years, researchers have studied the matter to better understand how our environment can both support and undermine our health and diet. One important finding has been that low-income communities and communities of color often have the fewest places to purchase healthy, affordable food.
As a response to this public health crisis, federal, state and local governments have sought to combat food deserts and food swamps (often one and the same) by starting programs like healthy food financing initiatives (HFFIs), which provide low-cost financing to grocery stores that want to invest in underserved communities. These programs increase access to — and build demand for — healthy food in communities with high rates of diet-related disease and food insecurity. They also provide more jobs in communities that often have high rates of unemployment.
For 30 years, Pittsburgh's Hill District lacked a supermarket, that is, until the opening of a Shop 'n' Save in 2013 through an HFFI program. A recently released study by the RAND Corporation has found that the opening of the new grocery store resulted in less food insecurity and fewer new cases of diet-related disease for community residents. Hill District residents have since experienced fewer new cases of high cholesterol, arthritis and diabetes over time when compared to a similar community that did not receive a supermarket. The supermarket community also experienced less food insecurity, lower SNAP participation and increasing resident incomes. (Since less than 1% of the community moved away from the neighborhood, these improvements can’t be linked to gentrification.)
This study provides strong evidence that introducing a new supermarket in a previously underserved community brings both health and economic gains for local residents. That news alone should encourage elected officials to take more action and double down on their investments to ensure that new and improved supermarkets -- and their corresponding health and economic benefits -- exist in every ZIP code nationwide. No one should have to wait 30 years for a grocery store, and every child should grow up in a community where affordable, healthy food is within reach.