Tomato in the shape of a heart in female hands.

Community engagement brings equitable solutions to food access across the region

Press Release
September 28, 2020

The community has a new regional coalition focused on putting the community at the forefront of developing solutions to food access. The regional partnership is known as the Safe and Abundant Nutrition Alliance or SANA and has support from over twelve local participating agencies.

Recently awarded $200,000 from the Colorado Health Foundation, the project’s goal is to implement equitable solutions to improve access to healthy foods through community distribution sites in Garfield, western Eagle and Pitkin counties.

“This is the best project I have ever worked on,” said Dana Wood, project coordinator with Garfield County Public Health. “It has been so rewarding and the results so tangible. We asked subsets of our community to tell us what their issues and barriers are. Then, we used grant funds to specifically address those barriers.”

At the beginning of the year, SANA hired three local community engagement specialists with an $85,000 Colorado Health Foundation planning grant. These team members lead efforts by taking a grassroots, community-level approach.

“We went out and talked to people one on one, we made phone calls to reach out. We collected more than 300 stories on what food insecurity looks like in our community,” said Brenda Kaiser, SANA community engagement specialist. “We heard people say that they didn’t know how to cook with some of the traditional food pantry items, like canned soup and fruit cocktail. Instead,

people were interested in having healthier, less-processed fresh-food options. We heard people say, ‘I’m intimidated and nervous to go to the local food pantry because no one there looks like me or speaks my language.’ This was good feedback that we used to make impactful changes.”

The engagement specialists work shifts at local food distribution sites, such as LIFT-UP. Time spent there allows the specialists to continue their dialogue with the community and share information about additional food and community resources.

“Being part of the community, we are a familiar face and help people feel more comfortable when they come in,” Kaiser added. “This has led to more people accessing the food resources that we are able to offer.”

The team has also been working to break down the stigmas that keep people from accessing food resources. SANA is working to identify individuals who are eligible, but not currently enrolled.

“People don’t always know about federal nutrition programs, such as WIC, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Free and Reduced Lunch,” said Wood.

SANA has also been working to expand the local farm-to-food pantry system that provides local produce, meat and eggs to all LIFT-UP and Food Bank of the Rockies pantries and sites. The program supports local farmers by paying them to produce high-demand, quality products that community members have said they want to see.

On a recent tour to Highwater Farm in Silt, the SANA team watched the autumn red onion crop being harvested. Almost 80 percent of the produce grown at Highwater Farm is purchased by food distribution programs, such as WIC and LIFT-UP’s farm-to-food pantry program.

“Starting a farm is super hard,” said Sara Tymczyszyn, director at Highwater Farm. “Last year, the Healthy Communities Coalition gave us the start we needed with a $5,000 mini-grant. That allowed us to purchase the seeds and compost we needed to move forward.”

Angela Mills, LIFT-UP executive director, says the program is creating economic opportunities for farmers and adding jobs to the community.

“In just one year of the program, we have grown from six to now 13 participating local farmers,” she said. “This allows us to source local produce and meat. The program helps local farms scale up, grow more product for us, and provide nutrient-dense food to clients that would not have it otherwise.”

“This community is ripe for this project and it’s rewarding. At the end of the day, you can see the things you accomplished and how much food gets to be taken to LIFT-UP,” Tymczyszyn said.

To become involved or find out more about the Safe and Abundant Nutrition Alliance-SANA, message the Community Engagement Specialists on SANA’s Facebook page @2020SANA.

For a video of SANA’s recent visit to Highwater Farm, visit the Garfield Healthy Communities Coalition page.

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