Connecting More New Yorkers to Fresh, Locally Grown Produce

Nutrition incentive programs can help people living on low incomes purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. The Double Up Food Bucks program lets Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients use their benefits and receive a matching value on dollars spent on fresh produce at participating farmers markets, mobile markets, and corner stores.

For instance, a family that spends $10 in SNAP benefits with a participating vendor receives an additional $10 in Double Up Food Bucks to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables. In addition to helping families living on low incomes purchase more fruits and vegetables, the program supports local farmers and local economies.

In 2014, Field & Fork Network began administering the Double Up Food Bucks programs at seven markets in Western New York. The following year, NYHealth made its first grant to Field & Fork to support the spread of the program across the State. Field & Fork Network offers Double Up Food Bucks at various outlets—including farmers markets, mobile markets, and small retail and grocery sites—across urban, suburban, and rural communities. Using SNAP enrollment and health outcomes as key indicators, Field & Fork Network works in communities that reflect the greatest need and where Double Up Food Bucks will have the greatest impact. NYHealth continued to support its ongoing expansion to other regions of the State, with grants in 2017, 2018, and 2021.

Despite the crucial role they play in connecting people to healthier foods, nutrition programs are under-enrolled. Field & Fork collaborated with community organizations to help enroll residents in Double Up Food Bucks, many of whom weren’t aware they were eligible for SNAP. On the vendor side, Field & Fork connected with both existing Double Up Food Bucks farmers markets and new sites to ensure they had the tools and technology to successfully operate the program as well as address customer questions and needs.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, it had a particularly devastating effect on New York State, including exacerbating food insecurity and inequities among many New Yorkers. In fall 2020, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) notified Field & Fork that it could qualify for an additional $750,000 in funding—but it would need to find matching funds for any federal amount and with only a 48-hour window to do so. NYHealth became the first funder to support this effort, and then worked quickly to connect Field & Fork with other funders across the State. Within the 48-hour deadline, a coalition of funders committed to nearly the full amount—collectively channeling $1.5 million of support to hungry New Yorkers.

Over the course of 2020, despite the lockdown, Field & Fork worked to add Double Up Food Bucks at 12 new sites at grocery stores, farmers markets, and small retail and mobile markets, representing 16,000 new users.

As a result of Field & Fork’s efforts, a total of 32 New York counties are now participating in Double Up Food Bucks, giving more families living on low incomes better access to healthy, local food. To date, 42,000 New Yorkers and more than 200 farmers markets, mobile markets, and farm stands have participated. The dollars involved are equally impressive: $4.9 million in SNAP & Double Up Food Bucks dollars have been spent in New York State since 2015.

Field & Fork has also been successful in securing additional USDA matching support through 2024 and, for the first time, a $2 million annual appropriation from the State in 2022 to expand the program. Through this leveraged funding, Field & Fork anticipates reaching approximately 140,000 new SNAP recipients in 45 counties in New York State and distributing $4.3 million in produce.

Engaging the Residents of Niagara Falls

In this Grantee Spotlight Q&A, NYHealth Program Officer Nupur Chaudhury interviews Brian Archie and Evelyn Harris, Co-Chairs of the Create a Healthier Niagara Falls Collaborative and long-time residents of the community, to discuss their work in North End, Niagara Falls, a Healthy Neighborhoods Fund community.

As the community convener grantee for North End, Niagara Falls, the Collaborative is working to support the health and wellness of residents by improving the local food and built environments. These efforts have included the formation of a Resident Engagement Council, a group of locals who act as peer educators and advocate for the needs of the community in the implementation of food access and built environment projects. Watch the following Q&A segments to learn more.

What is resident engagement? How have you been integrating it into your work in Niagara Falls?

Tell us about the community in Niagara Falls.

What are some projects that are going on in the community?

What would you like to see for the Council and Niagara Falls in the next 5 years?

Bringing Peacemaking to the Near Westside

In this Grantee Spotlight Q&A, NYHealth Program Officer Bronwyn Starr and Leah Russell, Senior Associate, Center for Court Innovation, discuss efforts by the Center to promote health and wellness in the Near Westside neighborhood of Syracuse, a Healthy Neighborhoods Fund community.

As the community convener grantee for the Near Westside, the Center is working with residents, community-based organizations, and other neighborhood partners to improve the community’s health through a range of activities. The Center’s efforts include providing community-based conflict resolution services; advancing a Take Back the Streets campaign; and increasing resident engagement and leadership.  Through these projects, the Center is working to improve the health and safety of the Near Westside—empowering residents and helping elevate their perception of the neighborhood. Watch the following Q&A segments to learn more.

What is the Center for Court Innovation and its Peacemaking Project?

How Did Peacemaking Become Involved in the Near Westside?

How Does Peacemaking Align with NYHealth’s Healthy Neighborhoods Fund initiative?

Has there been a change in the perception about safety in the Near Westside?

What is the Take Back the Streets campaign?

What is the Summer at Skiddy Park program?
As a resident of the Westside, what do you like to do to be active?

East Harlem Bikes, Runs, and Walks Its Way to Better Health

Even though he’s only five years old, Moa is an expert on the happenings on Randall’s Island, having explored every corner of the park during visits with his parents, Nicole and Sandy.

The family bikes to Randall’s Island up to several times a week via a vehicle-free pathway that connects their East Harlem neighborhood to the park. “On the bike path to the park, there’s a white board with daily activities and events listed,” said Nicole. “Moa loves to stop and find out about what’s going on for the day. He gets very excited about everything he sees and learns over there.”

Like Moa, many community members of East Harlem have limited access to outdoor physical activity in their neighborhood. With less than half the amount of open space as recommended by New Yorkers for Parks, East Harlem has higher rates of obesity and diabetes as compared with other New York State communities.

NYHealth is supporting a range of efforts to expand and improve access to healthy food and physical activity, build demand for public spaces, and get residents engaged in healthy behaviors throughout East Harlem—one of six communities in New York State where NYHealth is working with grantee partners to transform through its Building Healthy Communities priority area.

For Moa and his parents, the ability to access Randall’s Island for fresh air and physical activity has been a boon. “It means we spend more time outdoors exercising by riding to the park,” says Nicole. “It’s beautiful once you’re there and a safe space to walk, ride, or play.”

NYHealth grants to Randall’s Island Park Alliance (RIPA) and the New York Restoration Project are helping to make Randall’s Island an accessible resource to Moa’s family and other East Harlem residents, where they can participate in free community programming and events related to health and wellness. These projects also are targeting residents of the South Bronx in partnership with the New York Community Trust through a complementary initiative. Also in East Harlem, NYC Bike Share is growing and promoting Citi Bike (the citywide bike-sharing program) and its discount program for low-income residents. The Fund for Public Health in New York is supporting the East Harlem Neighborhood Health Action Center in engaging residents to use walking trails throughout the neighborhood.

Physical Activity and Nutrition Education on Randall’s Island

Connecting people to the 330 acres of park space on Randall’s Island will greatly benefit families in East Harlem. Conveniently located adjacent to the East Harlem neighborhood, the island offers year-round health and wellness programming for all ages, including free weekly running, yoga, dance exercise, and gardening classes. For youth ages 8–14,  the Jesse Owens Track & Field Club offers an introduction to cross-country distance running, proper running techniques, and nutrition habits.

Despite the close proximity, many East Harlem residents are unaware of the health and wellness activities or even how to access Randall’s Island. Residents also have had safety concerns about getting to Randall’s Island using the walking paths or bike lanes. RIPA is working to overcome these perceived barriers and get residents engaged in the wide array of activities offered—some of which people are experiencing for the first time, such as the island’s urban farm.

“The children were able to taste almost every plant, mint, catnip, and other herbs,” said Lisa Schaffner, a teacher at Central Park East 2, of a spring 2017 trip with her kindergarten class to the urban farm, a 40,000-square-foot environmentally sustainable garden and outdoor classroom on the island. Urban farm employees took the children on a tour of the vegetable beds and greenhouse, engaging them in how to identify the different plants by color or leaf shape and how to pick and taste the herbs and vegetables. “It was a hands-on, multisensory experience,” said Ms. Schaffner. “We all were able to eat a small piece of the asparagus that was so delicious, the teachers and children remembered it when we were back at school.”

Through regularly scheduled school trips and periodic special events open to the public, the urban farm gives both children and adults an opportunity to experience and learn about sustainable gardening in an urban setting, including hands-on classes to help them better understand how food choices affect their health, the environment, and their communities.

On some of his trips to Randall’s Island, Moa likes to bring his grandmothers when they visit from out of town. On one occasion, as he guided one of his grandmothers around the urban farm, staff members overheard Moa teaching her everything he had learned during his previous trips. “Chickens are always a highlight, and he likes to taste and see all of the things that grow,” says Nicole, Moa’s mother. “His favorite is basil and he’ll eat okra right off the plants.”

To help facilitate pedestrian access to the island, New York Restoration Project is partnering with neighborhood organizations to increase signage for Randall’s Island in East Harlem and the South Bronx. New York Restoration Project also is working to raise awareness of the physical activity and nutrition education opportunities among schools and community groups that could benefit from these underused resources.

Cycling and Walking Trails

Citi Bike and the East Harlem Neighborhood Health Action Center are encouraging residents to bike and walk around their neighborhood, as well as use the pedestrian and bike trails that connect East Harlem to Randall’s Island.

To help promote its discounted membership for low-income residents, Citi Bike is partnering with local organizations to organize and offer free community rides. It is also working with Bike New York to provide bicycling classes for kids, as well as regularly attending community events to share information about discounts and employment opportunities for East Harlem residents.

East Harlem Neighborhood Health Action Center worked with community partners to help develop the Community Walking Trail, a 3.5-mile pathway along sidewalks that run east and west by way of 106th and 115th Streets in East Harlem. It holds regularly occurring community walking groups on the trail. The walking trail has an added benefit of promoting or passing by public art installations, museums, community gardens, and cultural centers throughout the neighborhood. Through these coordinated group walks, residents are not only improving their physical activity but also learning more about their community’s assets. Additionally, the walking trail connects the neighborhood to Randall’s Island through a walkway at 103rd Street—providing residents with a safe, convenient way to access the island from East Harlem.

Through these collective efforts by NYHealth grantees and their partners, residents of East Harlem and the South Bronx—communities with historically limited opportunity for physical activity—are engaging more in biking, walking, and other activities that improve the health and wellbeing of themselves and their families.

Better Balance for a Better Future

Carol Rock, a senior citizen and a resident of the small rural town of Windsor, N.Y., had trouble with her balance and struggled with risk of falling.

Elderly residents of Broome County had one of the highest rates of falls in New York State. NYHealth awarded Broome County a grant to support the State’s Prevention Agenda goals, which designated falls prevention as the highest priority for the county.

An NYHealth grant to Broome County Health Department supported the Better Balance for Broome Fall Prevention Project, a program that includes several interventions for older adults to identify those at risk for falling, refer them to appropriate programs, and build their strength to help them maintain their independence and quality of life.

Through her senior volunteering program, Carol learned about a Tai Chi program offered through Broome County Health Department. She liked the Tai Chi classes so much that she decided to train to become an instructor herself. “Everyone enjoys the classes,” says Carol, who has been teaching Tai Chi class twice a week since 2014. “They feel like they’re receiving a great benefit from it in not only improving their balance, but also for the emotional benefits and relaxation.” The Tai Chi program draws in members of the senior community in Windsor, as well as those who are involved in other exercise programs through the Broome County’s retired seniors program. Carol’s class has 10 members who attend each week. “Teaching these classes has been wonderful because it’s so motivational to exercise in a group,” said Carol. “It just benefits everyone physically and mentally. I’ve seen a lot of people come in that were depressed, and because of the comradery of these classes, they feel better.”

The Better Balance for Broome also incorporated provider training for fall screening at United Health Services Hospitals (UHS). Dr. Frank Floyd, a practicing internal physician at UHS, noted that prior to Better Balance for Broome’s involvement, fall screening for individuals was not commonly performed in the hospital setting. UHS providers now screen all patients over the age of 65, many of whom have benefitted from the program’s classes. “We proactively prescribe the program to prevent falls,” said Dr. Floyd, “in turn helping the health of the community.”

A Healthy Valentine’s Day

Riley Elementary’s second-grade class faced an important choice: What snacks would they eat for their class Valentine’s Day Party?

The class has been learning about nutrition and physical activity through Oswego County Health Department’s (OCHD) Healthy Highway program, which taught them about poor (red), cautionary (yellow), and good (green) food choices. Equipped with new knowledge about food choices, one of the second grade classes voted to have yogurt, cheese sticks, carrots, granola cars, apple juice, and raisins—instead of chips and candy—for their Valentine’s Day party.

With a grant from NYHealth to support its Prevention Agenda goals, OCHD set out to address the high incidence of chronic disease in Oswego County caused by soaring overweight and obesity rates among school children and adults. OCHD provided training and support for the implementation of the Healthy Highway program, which seeks to increase awareness of obesity as a risk factor for chronic disease; incorporates time into the school day for students to learn about and plan nutritious snacks and lunches; and increases student engagement in physical activity.

Seth*, who is eight years old, said, “Healthy Highway is pretty fun. In the cafeteria, it helps us pick good foods and not eat things that are bad for us.”

As part of the Healthy Highway program, fifth graders worked with the school’s librarian during their library lessons to develop comic strips about what they learned. These colorful comic strips are posted around the school.

Riley Elementary’s sixth graders were trained to be “food detectives” through the program. The sixth graders sat in the cafeteria and took inventory of what other students consumed by examining lunch trays before students discarded the contents. Significant behavior change was noted in this school—Riley Elementary students ate 17.8% more vegetables and 29.1% more pineapple than students in a similar, neighboring school with no Healthy Highway program.

Teachers and parents have reported that students are often heard using the red-yellow-green traffic metaphors when referring to food, both in and out of school. One mother of three said, “Healthy Highway has been a fun way for our family to make healthy changes. For example, my kids will report at dinner if we are eating ‘green light’ foods, and even ask if we should be hiking or biking to places around town instead of jumping in the van. It has been a great way to engage with my kids about healthy habits that cross from school to home.”

A pre-test/post-test data analysis showed that participating schools saw a significant increase in student knowledge of and ability to identify healthy and unhealthy foods. As a result of Healthy Highway, schools and families now have a clearer approach to raising awareness about chronic disease and focusing on disease prevention. The Healthy Highway program has been so successful that participating schools, as well as one additional school, are interested in continuing the project in the next school year.

*name changed to protect privacy