While Real Food Farm volunteers are improving residents' access to quality food, it doesn’t necessarily mean residents are eating better. Some studies suggest that teenagers with greater access to supermarkets have lower than average body mass index, while teens with easier access to convenience stores have higher BMI’s. BMI, a proxy for body fat, is important because high scores are positively correlated with health risks from hypertension to diabetes.
On the other hand, a 2011 study found that among low-income young and middle-aged adults, fast-food consumption is associated with fast-food availability. But consumption of fruits, vegetables and healthy grains has no relationship to the proximity of full-service grocery stores.
As they took produce to communities around Clifton Park, Chissel and the Real Food Farm team noticed that the elderly were their most enthusiastic customers. To better accommodate their limited mobility, Chissel arranged for his truck to make stops at seniors’ homes and community centers.
But Chissel wanted to find ways to reach out to families with young kids, too. He wondered if part of the problem was that they just didn’t know what to do with the produce. “Seniors know how to cook a bunch of greens,” Chissel said. But the same can’t be said for the younger generations — so the team came up with a few ways to address this issue.
First, Real Food Farm volunteers try to engage mobile-market customers on how to prepare the items they have on the truck that day. “Chop up those greens. Put a little oil or butter in a pan, sauté some onion and garlic, add the greens to the pan and cook for ten minutes,” Chissel said explaining his favorite way to cook greens. If people know what to do with the produce, they’ll be more likely to use it, he said.
Second, Real Food Farms is developing ways to pique kids' interest in real food. RFF brings its mobile market to elementary schools in the Clifton Park neighborhoods and gives the children hands-on opportunities to learn about farming, the local food system and healthy eating habits. “We try to arrange to come by an hour before school gets out,” Chissel said. Excited kids who’ve participated in RFF’s program show their parents the mobile market. When their children are excited about eating the produce, RFF’s volunteers have found parents are more inclined to make purchases.
Local government officials and non-profits are encouraged by the work RFF is doing to increase food accessibility, educate families on healthy eating, and to reduce obesity and heart disease.
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