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P roject Team Oasis
Team Oasis Contributors Include: Julio Martinez Silvestrini, Dawn
Koloszyk, Ayanna Crawford, Lori Kerwood, Julie Federman, Suzanne
Bowles, Maureen Trafford and Julie Gentile
Team Oasis: Report to Accompany Asset Table
As part of the Leadership Pioneer Valley program, members of project team Oasis chose to explore the intersections of two goals: increasing access to markets for locally produced food, and
addressing the region’s major health issues which include obesity and diabetes.
Early in our research on this topic
team members were struck by the
coexistence of our region’s thriving
locally produced food sector and the
tremendous food insecurity in this
region, which is a significant indica-
tor of health disparity.
Project Oasis examines the intersection of two important movements:
the local food movement and the movement to address hunger in our communities – with the
aim of improving health outcomes for those in our region’s most food insecure communities.
While researching our respective parts of this project each of us encountered the duplication of
efforts among similar but not thoroughly connected agencies. While many of the local agencies
do work together on some projects there is not one regional agency or coalition which ties all of
these resources together for the purpose of addressing regional health disparity This is not for a
lack of trying however, it is a resource issue. Many of these agencies are run on the dedication
of small very hard working crews. In an effort to address this duplication, Team Oasis started
an Asset Table which identifies many of the local organizations which help to bring healthy
food to the food insecure.
The following are some examples of the research we were able to accomplish which ultimately
lead us to the creation of the Asset Table aimed at connecting the Pioneer Valley’s Wealth of
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Food Resources with Food Security Movements, with the goal of improved health outcomes for
food insecure populations.
Food Systems: The Pioneer Valley regional food system includes dozens of successful small and
medium-sized farms run by farmers who cultivate some of the most fertile agricultural soils in
the world.1 If one examines the growth of crops and agricultural products grown in this region a
distinct increase has taken place as we can see based on the Farm Inventory by Agricultural
Product Comparison of years 2002 and 2007 which was included in the Pioneer Valley Planning
Commission’s Food Security Plan. See chart below:
Total Number of
Difference Between
2002 and 2007
Cattle and calves
Christmas Trees and Woody Crops
Fruits, Tree Nuts, Berries
Hogs and Pigs
Horses, Donkeys, Mules
Livestock, Poultry, and their products
Milk and other dairy products from cows
Nursery, Greenhouse
Other Animals and Products
Other Crops and Hay
Poultry and Eggs
Sheep, Goats, and Their Products
Vegetables, Melons, Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes
Not only do these counties have an abundance of farms, but they also have a large volume of
farmer’s markets. Hampden County has 17, Hampshire County has 9 and Franklin County has
8. (USDA Agricultural Marketing Services)
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Food Insecurity: Despite the region’s thriving food systems, according to a 2011 report from
Feeding America, 90,900 people in the three counties of the Pioneer Valley (Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin Counties) are food insecure, this equates to 12% of the region. More than a
third of those who are food insecure are children.
The Springfield Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which includes all of Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin Counties, is ranked 37th out of the 100 largest MSAs in the U.S. for “Food
Hardship Rate”. The “Food Hardship Rate” is a measure developed by the Food Research and
Action Center indicating whether households have experienced moments during the past year
when they did not have enough money to buy food.1 In the three counties in the Pioneer Valley
29-49% percent of people who are food insecure earn too much to qualify for government
assistance, but not enough to pay for medical
bills, utilities, mortgage or rent, and food. They have no other choice but to turn to charitable food assistance—like that provided by
The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and
their member agencies—to make ends meet.2
Access to culturally relevant, fresh, local food
will improve health indicators for families in
the region’s most distressed neighborhoods, further improving community vitality. According
to the County Health Rankings (a project by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) Holyoke’s
region of Hampden County has the lowest health ranking in Massachusetts. A resident of
Hampden County is 25% more likely to die a premature death, and that percent is even higher
when compared to the rest of the Pioneer Valley. Hampden County has 10% more children in
poverty than the rest of the state, and extremely limited access to a primary care physician:
1,107 to 1, as compared to 631 to 1 on the national level. Violent crime, sexually transmitted infections, teen pregnancy, joblessness and poverty soar in this region as compared to the rest of
the state. Hampden county experiences 7% limited access to healthy foods and 45% of all restaurants are fast food restaurants. These disparities become even more severe as you fix the lens
on Holyoke – a city in which 31% of the residents live below poverty and 48% of the population
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is of Latino or Hispanic descent.
l) (US Census 2010)
The Pioneer Valley Food Security Advisory Committee in preparing the Pioneer Valley Food
Security Plan states: “No one goes hungry. We grow our own food.” In a region as local food
wealthy as the Pioneer Valley how is it that we cannot meet the need?
Assets: The Pioneer Valley is rich with government initiatives, charitable sector driven programs, educational resources and community coalitions who are actively addressing the important merger of local food movements with food security movements, with potentially profound
nutrition and health outcomes for food insecure populations. While work to connect these efforts seems to be growing, we feel there is still work to be done to ensure that effective efforts
and programs are connected for the most efficient and effective outcomes for our region as a
whole. To help facilitate these connections, we have documented the region’s assets in this effort
in the attached Asset Table.
Improvement Opportunities: As you can see from the attached table, our region is rich in assets.
However, there are factors that hinder the goal of connecting the region’s food insecure populations with nutritious locally produced food.
We observed a lack of research from the consumer perspective aimed at better understanding consumer demand and barriers to consumption. Farmer’s Markets bring in the
same products to predominantly white populated areas that they bring to food insecure
neighborhoods. This led our group to question whether the aspect of culturally appropriate food needs to be explored. Food insecure neighborhoods are ethnically and culturally diverse, as poverty rates are much higher among non-white populations in the
U.S. This leads to a lack of knowledge on the part of growers and producers as to what
these populations may be looking for. Further there seems to be a lack of understanding
of the reasons why food insecure people may not take advantage of nutritious locally
produced food when geographic and/or economic barriers are reduced or eliminated.
Locally produced nutritious food is primarily available as raw vegetables. Other options
such as canned or frozen are not readily available. Those who are pressed for time, or
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who do not have a fully equipped or functional kitchen may find this raw form as a barrier to preparation. Further, few markets make local dairy, grains and meat available.
Lack of transportation for consumers to get to the farmers markets can limit participation. Farmers markets availability tends to be concentrated in areas of wealth and food
security, further accentuating the disconnect between healthy local food and food insecure populations.
The availability of winter markets throughout the Pioneer Valley is increasing but remains very limited. The existing winter markets are excellent, but still have limited windows of time of operation. Expanding the number of winter markets and operating
hours will promote year round access to these facilities. •
Health education efforts that Oasis was able to identify seemed to focus on approaches
that explained the food pyramid, and less on efforts to educate consumers on the preparation and consumption of local healthy food. There seems to be a lack of knowledge on
the part of consumers as to how to prepare what farmers provide.
Oasis Recommendations
Creation of a survey to identify which cultural factors such as family structure, the role
of shared dinner times, and types of food desired by consumers are impacting their food
choices. If there are foods that consumers are looking for but are not available, this
would be vital information for farmers. Results should be published in an accessible
place to ensure the farmers, agriculture and food distribution organizations learn of this
Increased support for, or increased investment in, programs that connect culturally and
ethnically diverse people to regional workforce investment to ensure the opportunity for
people to connect to their culture through agricultural business practices.
Recommend an increased focus on providing cooking demonstrations at local markets
with an emphasis on those markets serving food insecure populations.
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Work with PV Grows to rebuild the once-functional working group on food security and
local food to increase meaningful collaboration. Add a component related to addressing
regional health disparity and include more providers from that industry, as well.
Reach out to our local policy makers to:
o Encourage land use policies and zoning regulations to promote, expand and protect potential sites for community gardens, mobile markets and farmers markets.
o Ensure that they reach out to build awareness and adoption specifically around
the SNAP programs and the double bucks programs that match SNAP dollars
spent on healthy foods.
The team spent the majority of our project time researching and exploring the plethora of organizations, surveys, projects and programs with a critical focus on the intersection of the two
movements described above. It took time to compile this research as there is no central
clearing/storage mechanism for this information in our region.
Concluding Thoughts:
It is our hope that this document will facilitate further work on the subject with the goals of:
Identifying and developing strategies to decrease cultural and social barriers that exist
for food insecure populations to participate in nutritious local food options
Increasing regional knowledge of the role that socio-economic and cultural factors play
in a family’s choice to participate with nutritious local food options
Increased focus on the consumer side of the local food equation, especially in regards to
those who are food insecure
Increased partnership and/or communication between local food producers and organizations serving those experiencing food insecurity.
The Pioneer Valley Food Security Plan, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, 2012, Ω
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Map the Meal Gap report, Feeding America, 2011,
Children’s HealthWatch Policy Action brief prepared by John T. Cook, PhD,
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