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Building Healthy Places with Local Food

More than 60% of Michiganders live with one, or more, chronic disease (diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, etc.) and 95% of us engage in behaviors that contribute to chronic disease development. While these numbers are daunting, there is a lot we can do individually, and as communities, to change these numbers. One the most impactful places to start is through the food.

Healthy food is one of the best ways to manage and prevent chronic disease. Unfortunately, many barriers exist to making healthy food access and knowledge a reality for all eaters. To help address these barriers on a community scale, Taste the Local Difference partners with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) on the Building Healthy Places (BHP) program.

The BHP program, funded by the national Centers for Disease Control (CDC), provides funding to change food service in community sites through policy, systems or environmental interventions. The goal of these interventions is to improve healthy food access and make healthy eating easier and more feasible for more people. 

In Northern and Southeast Michigan, TLD staff work to identify community sites (schools, clinics, senior centers, food pantries, worksites etc.) where policy, systems or environmental changes could positively influence the health of the people they serve. They then support these sites through an assessment process and provide technical assistance and recommendations for the development of an action plan. As TLD staff are deeply connected to the communities they serve, they also help facilitate relationships with outside organizations, food producers, or additional resources that could help a site be more successful in sustaining their intervention.

This year, TLD is eager to help facilitate healthy food changes in 16 unique sites. The BHP funding will be leveraged to expand school garden programs, add equipment for processing fresh local food, improve retail store displays of healthy food, establish employee wellness programs, create culinary education programming, revitalize food pantry signage, and more! All these changes enhance awareness of, and knowledge about, healthy local food – a key piece of Taste the Local Difference’s organizational mission. These interventions are also making it easier for local food based businesses to incorporate local, seasonal food and build healthier places within their communities. 

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

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