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Prince George’s County Food Equity Forum Addresses County Health and Healthy Foods

Local Food System Stakeholders Focus on Innovations and Policy Opportunities in Farming, Nutrition Education, and Affordable Healthy Food Retail at Prince George’s County First-Ever “Food Equity Forum”

HYATTSVILLE, MD (September 18, 2014) – High levels of chronic disease and obesity, especially in low-income communities, hamper the quality of life in Prince George’s County. Dozens of food and public health experts participated in a first-ever “Food Equity Forum,” hosted by Prince George’s County Food Equity Council (FEC), to discuss strategies to improve the health of county residents and increase access to healthy food for all socio-economic groups.

“Many of our residents have limited access to healthy food options and Prince George’s County residents have the second highest rate of overweight and obesity in Maryland. We need to address these threats to our communities’ health together. The Food Equity Council is working collaboratively to propose innovative solutions to increase access to healthy, affordable, locally and sustainably produced, and culturally appropriate foods. The Forum was an important step forward in creating meaningful dialogue about ways to improve our food system,” said Dannielle Glaros, M. P.P, chief of staff, County Council Member Eric Olson.

“What’s exciting is that stakeholders from all sectors of the food system were present. That’s what we need to make the systems-level change necessary to improve public health and communities’ access to healthy foods,” said Margaret Morgan-Hubbard, CEO and Founder of ECO City Farm and Co-Chair of FEC.

The 22-member Prince George’s County Food Equity Council was formed in response to the Institute for Public Health Innovation’s (IPHI) work to reduce chronic disease rates via complementary policy, environmental, programmatic, and infrastructure activities in Prince George’s County. As part of a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, IPHI identified and implemented seven different strategies to improve safety and increase access to recreational opportunities, increase access to and affordability of healthy foods for low-income families and improve delivery of clinical preventive services through the use of community health workers. Among these was starting FEC, which seeks to increase the number of people with access to affordable and healthy food options, while bridging the vast, but fragmented, cross-sector food system in many communities.

The Forum featured an expert panel and breakout sessions that engaged stakeholders from a variety of sectors of the county’s food system-including farmers, University of Maryland extension representatives, food access focused non-profits, grocery stores, elected officials, government agencies, renewable energy companies, and healthcare executives.

Central to the forum discussions were innovations in local food system work and opportunities for systems-level change through policy-based approaches. Healthy mobile food vending, untraditional agricultural ventures, strategies to increase community level access to affordable foods, and promising practices to expand nutrition education programming were popular topics among participants. Stakeholders acknowledged the need for collaboration to address the county’s “food deserts and swamps” and their implications on residents’ health. According to John Hopkins’ Center for a Livable Future, 43 percent of county residents live in “food deserts,” or low-income census tracts where residents are more than .5 miles (urban) or 10 miles (rural) from the nearest supermarket. The average for the state of Maryland is only 27 percent, according to the Prince George’s County Food Systems Profile. Readily available are “food swamps” through a densely populated network of fast food chain restaurants, which make up 71 percent of the county’s restaurants.

Speakers presenting findings and leading discussions included: Sydney Daigle, Food Equity Council coordinator; Margaret Morgan Hubbard, CEO, ECO City Farms and Food Equity Council co-chair; Pamela Hess, Executive Director, Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agricultue; Nicete Moodie, Nutrition Outreach Coordinator, Share Our Strength; Denise Ann Benoit-Moctezuma, Program Supervisor, Prince George’s Expanded Food & Nutrition Program, University of Maryland Extension; Pete Charlerie, Farmer and Wwner, SunSplash Farm; Shelby Watson Hampton, Farmer, Robin Hill Farm & Vineyards; Christie Balch, Executive Director, Crossroads Community Food Network; Susan Thweatt, Program Chief, Prince George’s County Health Department; Michael J. Wilson, Executive Director, Maryland Hunger Solutions; Allison Lilly, Sustainability and Wellness Coordinator, University of Maryland Dining Services; and Evelyn Kelly, Senior Program Manager, Institute for Public Health Innovation.

About the Institute for Public Health Innovation

Formed in 2009, IPHI is one of 38 member public health institutes within the National Network of Public Health Institutes (NNPHI). Across the country, public health institutes work in conjunction with public and private partners to protect and promote the public’s health by providing a range of functions from training to program development to research and evaluation. IPHI is the official public health institute serving the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, and has quickly grown into an important partner at the state and local levels across the region. To learn more about IPHI, visit our website.