By Jamese Kwele, The Food Trust
The Food Trust’s nutrition education programming reaches over 70,000 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)-eligible persons in lower-income communities throughout southeastern Pennsylvania. Our approach integrates nutrition education with efforts to increase access to healthier food — including at corner stores and farmers’ markets, and through healthy food incentive programs such as Philly Food Bucks.
One of the hallmarks of our programming is our free, six-week SNAP-Ed cooking workshops that take place in over 500 community sites — libraries, community centers, and churches — across the region. These workshops include nutrition education discussions and hands-on tasting and preparation of budget-friendly recipes.
The Food Trust also provides community residents with the opportunity to step outside of the traditional “classroom” to explore their neighborhood’s food environment. We host cooking demonstrations at our farmers’ markets, where educators cook samples of delicious recipes using locally grown, seasonal produce and discuss strategies for buying fresh fruits and vegetables on a budget using their ACCESS cards and Philly Food Bucks. We also conduct tours and lessons at corner stores that are part of our Healthy Corner Store Network, exploring healthier options like low-fat milk, fruits and veggies, whole grain bread, and more. In addition, we partner with small neighborhood grocery stores like Save-A-Lot, Aldi, and Cousins to offer healthy shopping tours. Using Cooking Matters at the Store materials from Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, participants in various retail settings can learn strategies for buying more fruits and veggies and shopping for healthy foods on a budget.
Each week, participants who attend our workshops are invited to share their success stories: how they’re shopping, cooking, and eating healthier; what kinds of new healthy recipes they’re trying at home; how they’re adding more fruits and vegetables to their diet while cutting back on soda; and how they’re reducing sodium intake by reading labels and using more herbs and spices to flavor their food.
More than that, our programming empowers folks to engage in community change — and Nicole Speller’s story is a perfect example. Nicole, who participated in our West Philadelphia cooking workshops, was passionate about making a change in her life and improving her health. A wonderful cook herself, she was involved, enthusiastic and eager to share each week’s recipe and nutrition tips with her neighbors and her church group. After the workshops ended, Nicole began teaching her own healthy cooking classes at her church, sharing the skills that have changed her life with her neighbors.
Nicole and other community heroes like her inspire us every day. They exemplify one of the most impactful parts of our work: watching participants not only learn to make healthier decisions, but also go out and become agents of positive change within their own families and communities. The power of SNAP-Ed is not limited to individual behavioral change; there is also great opportunity for nutrition education programming to increase the capacity of neighborhood institutions and community members to engage in and inspire sustainable change. By relocating influence into the hands of people who can best shape their communities, there is great potential for that impact to reverberate and magnify, driving an increased demand for healthier foods by tapping into the power that exists within our own communities.
Jamese Kwele is a longtime nutrition educator and program manager on The Food Trust’s consulting team. To learn more about The Food Trust’s nutrition education programming, visit www.thefoodtrust.org.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Healthy Food Access Portal.