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Building Healthy Places: Connecting our Communities to Good Food

For the past 9 months, Taste the Local Difference has partnered with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to implement the Building Healthy Places (BHP) Program. Through this program, the TLD team has connected 22 businesses and community organizations in Northeast and Southeast Michigan to funding and technical assistance for healthy food policy, systems and environmental changes. The work that was done at each of these 22 sites was focused on improving healthy food access and decreasing the barriers to healthy food consumption.

Here are a few examples of the impacts of this program:

Ozone House (Ypsilanti, MI) joined forces with Argus Farm Stop to deliver fresh, local produce to their residents, client families and staff during the height of the pandemic. Many residents tried new foods for the first time and were surprised by how much they enjoyed the new-to-them vegetables. Ozone House staff also took advantage of the produce boxes to teach residents how to prepare new foods.

• Shifting to online sales has been critical for many local food businesses this year. Acorn Market and Cafe (Manchester, MI) used the support from the BHP program to establish an online store and promote their business. As they saw increased demand for local products, they also used this program to double their cold storage space with the purchase of an additional cooler.

Franklin Middle School (Wayne, MI) is passionate about its school garden and wanted to see it expand. Leveraging funds from the MSU Extension School Garden Mini-Grant and the BHP program, they purchased supplies to repair and improve the garden and promote home based garden activities to parents and students. They also constructed a mobile classroom garden to provide access to garden based learning for all Franklin students. 

Hillman Community Schools (Hillman, MI) used their support from the BHP program to ensure families received meals during the pandemic. Funds purchased coolers to keep milk, meat, fruits, and vegetables fresh as meals were delivered via school bus throughout the Hillman community to families in need.

Nourish (Cheboygan, MI) operates a small cafe, yoga studio, and grocery in their community. They utilized BHP funds to purchase a merchandising freezer to store and offer more fresh frozen fruits and veggies and leaner low-sodium protein take-and-bake meals. Nourish also used the support from the program to establish and promote their business’s healthy options. 

The TLD team understands that one time interventions can’t solve the root causes that lead to decreased healthy food access and consumption. To help each site sustain their BHP intervention, TLD team members facilitated relationships with community-based organizations and businesses, health agencies, and nonprofits in the site’s community. TLD team members also, when appropriate, advised sites on internal policy changes to increase the likelihood of their intervention enduring. 

Relationships centered on good food are the heart of Taste the Local Difference’s work. Our team is grateful to have participated in the Building Healthy Places program this year and deepen our mission centered work of growing awareness of, and knowledge about, healthy local food. We know the health of the food system is reflected in the well being of all its eaters and look forward to continuing to support systems change that sustains food businesses while ensuring access to healthy, culturally relevant food for all.

Kelly Wilson, RDN, is the Director of Community Partners for Taste the Local Difference. Contact her at kelly@localdifference.org

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