Cultivating Healthy Communities

January 9, 2018

By: Christa Drew, DAISA Enterprises

Last month we shared an article from Stacey Barbas, Senior program officer on The Kresge Foundation's Health Program. She introduced us to the Fresh, Local and Equitable (FreshLo) cohort which includes twenty-three urban neighborhoods across the United States with community residents driven to increase access to healthy, affordable food, and create economic opportunities through new food enterprises. The FreshLo initiative supports the integration of this food-orientated development with creative placemaking, and because the food enterprises emerge from community culture and assets they have had an intentional infusion of arts in their planning and development.

Now, we'll be hearing from Christa Drew, Senior Consultant at DAISA Enterprises which serves as FreshLo’s National Program Office, providing strategic guidance, managing daily operations, supporting learning, and working with FreshLo grantees to build capacity. The DAISA team affirms the benefits of an integrated, multi-discipline and layered approach to community transformation where residents define and lead the changes.

"The FreshLo cohort is drawn from diverse communities and varied project types, but they are all located in low-income urban neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are facing great challenges, lacking adequate basic necessities such as food, shelter, and transportation and are fraught with systemic and racial inequity. Historically the residents have been excluded from political and economic opportunities. FreshLo celebrates their self-determination and innovation, and their significant steps for positive social and economic change."


Food-Orientated Development

The food enterprises planned by the 23 FreshLo communities are cultivating healthy communities in so many aspects of how we can understand “health” – improving access to nutritious foods, helping bring neighbors and generations together, improving walkability and physical fitness, making healthier economies with opportunities for those that most need them, and creating healthier environments as blighted lots and buildings are transformed.  The primary foci of the projects fit within 5 key clusters of this equitable food-orientated development approach:

  • Entrepreneur Training & Planning
  • Farm to Institution
  • Incubator Kitchen
  • Public Market/Retail Environment
  • Neighborhood Identity/Transformation

The FreshLo approach is rooted in equity and in leaders who champion a belief in their communities’ own power to author identity, change the local narrative, and transform their positions and place.  These leaders attract, listen and inspire the participation of fellow residents, generating both hope and a practical pathway to change. Neighborhoods lacking job training and employment opportunities are initiating culinary training programs within incubator kitchens to pilot food processing and catering businesses. Residents seeking access to healthy food are growing and selling produce at seasonal markets while working to establish year-round retail channels and public markets. School policies that limit or exclude local and culturally appropriate foods are facing opposition by organized citizens. Community gardens and farms are becoming education and training sites in agriculture, marketing, sales, and entrepreneurship. Neighbors frustrated with the lack of public resources and abundant installation of “undesirable” facilities are engaging in efforts to reclaim green spaces, establish positive signage, and make ascetic enhancements to increase a sense of safety, belonging, and pride. Through all of these food-orientated efforts artists are actively engaged, creative data collection is emphasized, and the cultural heritage and practices of residents are celebrated.


Integration of Arts & Cultural Expression

Throughout FreshLo there are a variety of artists and artist entrepreneurs and a wide range of ethnic backgrounds and cultural identities, acting as project leaders and facilitators. In identifying the assets and needs towards the food-focused projects they have led visioning processes through events and opportunities that are rooted in inclusion and expression. These creative approaches extend beyond traditional, exclusive methods in urban planning and community, focused solely on surveys, focus groups, and charrettes. In these traditional approaches, only individuals with certain levels of comfort, education, and availability to access the process and topics can contribute. In contrast, FreshLo sees the emphasis of arts and culture combining “data collection” with celebration – community meals, cultural festivals, collaborative art projects, night markets, music and dance performances and events, neighborhood scavenger hunts, pop-up restaurants and much more. These creative, expressive approaches are effectively engaging residents, many of whom have not previously participated in community gatherings, inviting them to show up, lend voice, and actively contribute to the transformation.

FreshLo efforts that outline food-focused initiatives in conjunction with explicit honoring and integration of the cultural expression and creativity of residents illuminate the humanity of the people in the neighborhood. The perceived and actual physical and social health of the residents is shifting due to the production of culturally relevant products where behavior change is amplified by connections to cultural practices and group norms. Within these diverse neighborhoods the practices integral to growing, preparing and eating food is deeply rooted in culture. The FreshLo approach demonstrates the inextricable link between arts, culture and identity. Efforts to address the need for healthy food and economic opportunities through planning, community engagement and implementation strategies which integrate arts and cultural is generating particularly dynamic, equitable, and vibrant work. Participating neighborhoods are blazing authentic food-orientated projects rooted in inclusion, expression, healing, celebration, and hope.


Christa Drew is Senior Consultant with DAISA Enterprises, serving as the FreshLo National Program Office.