Mobile Farmers Markets for New Yorkers with Serious Mental Illnesses
Healthy Food, Healthy Lives
November 23, 2021
Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that satisfies their dietary needs and food preferences.
The link between food and health is clear. Nutritious food can act as medicine, helping to prevent and manage disease. But too much food, too little food, food that is not nutritious, or food that is not culturally appropriate can have serious health consequences. NYHealth’s Healthy Food, Healthy Lives priority area works at the intersection of health and food to improve access to healthy and affordable foods, reduce food insecurity, and promote equity. To help leverage new and existing opportunities that promote promising policies and scale best practices, NYHealth issued a Request for Proposals (RFP), “Advancing Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives.” Through this RFP, NYHealth is supporting organizations across New York State working to improve food and nutrition quality; increase access to healthy and affordable food; and grow participation in food benefit and nutrition incentive programs. In 2021, NYHealth awarded the Research Foundation for Mental Hygiene a grant to participate in this initiative.
Under this grant, the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH), for which the Research Foundation for Mental Hygiene manages grants, developed a curriculum for congregate housing residents with serious mental illness, focused on purchasing, preparing, and consuming healthy foods. OMH also connected residents with fresh produce through mobile farmers markets. In New York State, 45,000 individuals with serious mental illness live in congregate homes. These individuals are more likely to worry about where their next meal is coming from. Challenges associated with mental disorders, including psychiatric symptoms and cognitive dysfunction, can affect the success of interventions designed to connect food-insecure communities with healthy foods. Working with the Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers (BFNC) and Rehabilitation Support Services (RSS) in the Capital District, OMH developed a range of hands-on workshops including healthy meal planning, shopping for fresh produce at the mobile market, making healthy snack choices, and using healthier preparation techniques. BFNC and RSS operate community residences and supportive housing programs, both of which offer opportunities to support food access, as well as hands-on food education and preparation. OMH also developed a training module for housing agency staff, who are key to ensuring residents’ access to and consumption of healthy foods. Lessons learned from this pilot informed future possible expansion of OMH’s mobile market program across New York State.