Entries Tagged 'Access to healthy food' ↓

Back-to-School season comes with a fresh focus on child nutrition

It’s Back-to-School season and this year, that means students are heading back to cafeterias stocked with healthier food.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which took effect July 1, made huge changes to school meals and the entire school food environment, for the first time in 30 years.

This week, there has been a lot of buzz on the Internet about the law, schools’ new menus and child nutrition. Here is a peak at two regional organizations that are focusing on nutrition in schools and communities.

To learn more about the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act , check out Capital Public Radio’s latest community health documentary, ‘What’s For Lunch? The Move to Improve School Nutrition.’

The documentary will air this Friday (Aug. 24) at 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. Here’s a preview:

And if you want to know how young people are reacting to schools’ new menus – and want a glimpse into what young people are eating in general – follow the The kNOw Youth Media’s Twitter list.

They are tweeting their meals, as part of their #DiaryofaTeenDiet.

In a recent editorial, the young people at The kNOw said they are hopeful that they can help reverse the childhood obesity epidemic in the region and nationwide.

One reason we’re so hopeful: Our culture is in favor of healthy weight in children. No one says, “I’m ok with obese kids.” People universally agree that healthy weight in kids is important. Unlike reducing youth violence, working on obesity in kids doesn’t call for a change of culture. It requires a change of what’s available and what’s easiest. Kids will be healthy if it’s an easy option.

How are you and your family bringing a fresh focus to child nutrition?

More about the new school lunch requirements:

More from Harvesting Health on school nutrition:

Sharing paletas – and our concerns about health and the environment

Last Friday, we celebrated Harvesting Health’s second birthday with paletas from La Reina de Michoacán.

But the event was more than a chance to dig into Fresno’s best ice cream. It was also an opportunity for friends of this blog, and health and environmental advocates, to come together, in real life, to discuss how community health and environmental justice issues impact their daily lives.

To foster this discussion, I wrote simple, personal questions about health and the environment on index cards. After savoring their paletas, party guests picked a card, and then wrote their answers on a white board.

Below are their answers, in their own words.

What community health issue makes you tick?

Paleta: pineapple

Paleta: stawberries and cream

Paleta: pistachio

Paleta: stawberries and cream


Name one change you would like to see in our community health or environment.

Paleta: mango and chile

Paleta: mango


Camille, Phoebe and Angelica
Paleta: coffee, cookies and cream

How does the environment impact your health?

Paleta: guayaba

Paleta: coconut

What have you done to improve your health, or the health of our community?

Paleta: strawberry

Paleta: chocolate


Paleta: yogurt and fruit

What have you done to improve our local environment?

Paleta: pistachio

Thanks to everyone who made it to the party, and thanks for supporting health blogging in the San Joaquín Valley! And thanks to La Reina, for providing the sweet treats. If you missed the party, drop me a note, and we’ll meet up for a paleta in the future!


EVENT: Why is the Valley sick?

During a Zócalo Public Square event on Monday evening, an outstanding panel will tackle a huge question: Why is the Central Valley sick?

By now, we all know the statistics:

  • Despite its agricultural bounty, the San Joaquín Valley is one of the poorest regions in the country. And despite growing the food that nourishes the nation, the region has high rates of food insecurity and obesity.
  • Our environment is also sick, and that doesn’t help people’s health. Many low-income communities have contaminated drinking water. We have some of the dirtiest air in the nation, and an epidemic of asthma. Rural communities are exposed to harmful pesticides.
  • We have a critical shortage of primary care doctors and specialists. But simply adding more doctors to the region – without addressing the other social, economic and environmental factors – could prove nothing but a Band-Aid.

So, what can be done to improve the health of Valley residents?

In the post, ‘This Place is Sick,’ now on Zócalo’s website, I suggested that low-income residents need better access to the healthy fruits and vegetables grown in this region:

The prescription to improve the health of the San Joaquín Valley must begin with the area’s greatest asset: agriculture. I have covered great initiatives intended to make locally grown produce more accessible—including school farm stands, flea markets that accept EBT for produce, conversions of neighborhood liquor stores into corner stores featuring fresh produce, and the development of school gardens, where families can grow the products they are culturally accustomed to.

These efforts require little government funding, yet could improve the health of San Joaquín Valley residents. There is also an opportunity for innovative collaboration between the agriculture industry and health organizations.

I’m very interested to hear how panelists Sarah Reyes, Central Valley Program Manager of The California Endowment, John Capitman, executive director of the Central Valley Health Policy Institute, and Edward Palacios, CEO of San Joaquín Valley Rehabilitation, answer the question.

And I’m interested to hear your ideas! Join the discussion on Monday (May 7) at 6:30 p.m. at Arte Américas, 1630 Van Ness Ave., in Fresno. Or add your suggestions in the comment section below.

Zócalo, previously on Harvesting Health:

Remembering Chávez at Passover

This weekend, Jewish families across the country and globe will gather together to celebrate the start of Passover. If United Farm Worker leader César E. Chávez were still alive, he might observe the Jewish holiday, too.

In my research for an upcoming story, I learned that Chávez used to hold Passover seders – ceremonial holiday dinners – inside the Pan y Vino hall at the UFW headquarters, also known as La Paz, in the Tehachapi Mountains community of Keene.

He would invite rabbis from Los Angeles to lead the union members in prayers, and in the re-telling of the Passover story – the story of Exodus, in which the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt.

“He took a real interest and comfort from Passover,” said Marc Grossman, Chávez’s longtime speech writer and personal aide. The story of Exodus, “meant a lot to him.”

If you will be observing the Passover holiday this weekend, consider bringing some universal social justice themes into your celebration.


Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture hosted the second Food and Justice Passover Seder. In the Haggadah – the text read during the seder – the Jewish social justice organization Bend the ARC framed the holiday as an opportunity for people to renew their commitment to social justice values, including:

  • No one goes hungry in this land of plenty and everyone has access to healthy and affordable food;
  • Our food is grown in ways that are environmentally sustainable;
  • All food production workers, from farmers to processors, drivers, and grocery and restaurant workers have safe workplaces and fair wages.

Happy Passover!

Above: Three religious sculptures in the Peace Garden at La Paz.

Your health goals for 2012

This week, I reached out to friends via social media to ask a simple question: What are your community health goals and hopes for 2012?

One woman responded immediately, via Twitter: “That young people will eat healthy foods. No more daily intakes of fast food. It can kill you.”

A man responded, via Facebook: “As someone with a pre-existing condition, I want to be able to afford health insurance!”

On this blog’s Facebook page, I posted my own hopes: “Personally, I want to continue to eat local food, at home, and continue to explore our region’s beautiful outdoors. Community-wide, I hope that health becomes a right, and not a privilege.”

What are your personal and community-wide goals for health in 2012? Please share them in the comments section below!

Happy New Year and Felíz Año Nuevo!


Have we connected on Facebook and Twitter? Please ‘follow’ me or ‘like’ this blog’s page, so we can continue these discussions!

2011′s top community health issues

Well friends, another year of investigating community health in the San Joaquín Valley is coming to an end.

Below are my picks for the Valley’s top five community health issues/trends of 2011. What did I miss? What issues were important to you this year? And what would you like to read more about next year? Let me know in the comments section below!

1. San Joaquín Valley’s contaminated drinking water grabs international attention

In March, a United Nations independent expert visited the tiny Tulare County community of Seville, where she learned about San Joaquín Valley residents’ prolonged fight for affordable and clean drinking water.

The visit was part of a 10-day tour through the United States that included stops in communities that have limited or unequal access to safe drinking water and sanitation services.

Her report, presented to the U.N. this fall, did not mince words when describing those communities — including numerous unincorporated, majority Latino communities in Tulare County — that have been marginalized and excluded from this basic right.

“While these groups comprise a small proportion of the population, the independent expert emphasizes that they need priority attention,” she wrote. The agricultural San Joaquín Valley is “experiencing enormous challenges, particularly nitrate contamination, with regard to drinking water.”

Water advocates hoped the U.N. report would shine a bright light on the Valley’s drinking water challenges, which disproportionately impact Latinos, and help them advocate for the Human Right to Water bill package, which was making its way through Sacramento.

It all must have made an impact. In October, Governor Brown signed the Human Right to Water bill package, which is intended to ensure that communities across the state have access to clean, affordable drinking water.

2. Poverty increases

Though the great recession officially ended in June 2009, Latinos across the country continued to struggle with poverty and food insecurity in 2010, government statistics showed this fall.

Nationwide, 26.6 percent of all Latinos in the United States lived in poverty in 2010, up from 25.3 percent in 2009, according to statistics released last week by U.S. Census Bureau. The poverty rate for whites was 13 percent in 2010.

California’s overall poverty rate — at 16.3 percent in 2010, up from 15.3 percent in 2009 — was above the country’s overall rate, 15.1 percent in 2010. In Fresno County, 20.9 percent of residents lived below the poverty line, according to the 2005-09 American Community Survey, the most recent data available.

In the Valley, the increase in poverty was evident at the Fresno Rescue Mission Emergency Family Shelter, where more and more families were seeking shelter after they had lost their job or home.

It was evident outside of Catholic Charities in September, when a husband and wife – both with degrees in social work – waited in line to receive food from the Neighborhood Market food distribution. (After I blogged about this couple, the woman was offered a job at Catholic Charities.)

And it was evident in November, when possibly hundreds of people were evicted from downtown Fresno’s homeless encampments. Two of the people I interviewed had landed on the streets when the money they made working in the San Joaquín Valley fields and packinghouses no longer covered the rent.

3. School food tops the menu

As child obesity – as well as poverty and food insecurity – has increased across the state and nation, more attention has been focused on the meals students eat while at school.

This winter, I reported on the trend of schools using innovative methods to ensure students eat breakfast.

 Studies show that breakfast increases kids’ health and improve their academic achievement. Also, teachers report fewer behavioral problems and higher attendance rates, school nurses see fewer students complaining of stomach aches, and school districts benefit from federal meal reimbursements.

And thanks, in part, to the efforts of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, schools began removing chocolate and strawberry milks from their school cafeterias. Los Angeles Unified School District last week became the largest school district in the nation to ban chocolate and strawberry milk from school menus, and Valley districts – including Earlimart, in Tulare Count – have also stopped offering flavored milk.

Is all this attention on school nutrition making an impact? I’d like to say ‘yes,’ but a recent Los Angeles Times story reports that L.A. Unified’s “trailblazing introduction of healthful school lunches has been a flop.”

4. Health reform provides benefits – and challenges

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act won’t be fully implemented until 2014, but the San Joaquín Valley is already experiencing ups and down from the law.

The Affordable Care Act designates funds to support the ongoing operations of community health clinics, create new health center sites in medically underserved areas, and expand preventative and primary health care services at health center sites, according to HealthCare.gov.

A sizeable portion of that money has been funneled into the medically underserved San Joaquín Valley. It’s hard to keep track of all the money coming into the Valley, but I’ve started tracking it in this blog post.

But preparing for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act has also proven challenging for Fresno County. In September, the county board of supervisors voted 3-2 to withdraw the county’s Low Income Health Program application from consideration by the State Department of Health Care Services.

With the vote, the county became the first in the state to withdraw its application for the program, which was intended to help counties prepare for the expansion of Medi-Cal that will come with the implementation of the federal health care law in 2014.

5. Residents, experts approach environmental justice seriously and scientifically

As I reported this summer, people of color have become the state’s strongest environmentalists, since they are most burdened by environmental pollution, and the resulting health problems.

So this fall, it was neat to hear about two projects that are comprehensively measuring just how badly residents are burdened by pollution.

In Arvin – a farmworker community that has been considered one of the smoggiest cities in the nation – residents have kicked off a two-year, community-led air monitoring project, or “bucket brigade.”

And UC Davis researchers just released a three-year study that analyzes every census block in the eight-county Valley, and assigns each one a numerical score for environmental hazards, based on the most recent data reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and another score for its social vulnerability, based on recent U.S. Census data.

In the new year, both projects could be great tools for communities advocating for health and environmental justices.

From the archives:

File photos by Rebecca Plevin and Daniel Cásarez.

Low on food, but not on hope

Catholic Charities held a Neighborhood Market food distribution Thursday morning in downtown Fresno. Between 400 and 500 families were expected to receive food during the event.

Adela and Edgar Fávila have college degrees, but not jobs.

“We would take any kind of job,” said Edgar, as he stood in line for food with Adela and their 3-year-old son. He has a degree in social work from Fresno City College, but has been relying on his Social Security payments.

Adela, who has a degree in social work from Fresno State, agreed. She worked for five years at Valley Teen Ranch, but budget constraints squeezed her out of a job about a year ago. She has received three unemployment benefit extensions.

The couple agreed that they are doing OK. They still have food and shelter for themselves and their four children.

They still have their sense of humor. “No Hawaii trip this year,” Edgar said with a laugh. He added that he would rather visit Cancún.

And they still have their hope.

“My son is trying to get into Stanford,” Adela said, adding that he’s taking four Advanced Placement classes this school year. “I’m really proud of him.”

Eddie Canal arrived at Catholic Charities at 6 a.m. Thursday morning so he could receive bags of fresh produce, and cartons of juice and milk. It was the end of the month, and the bills were piling up, so he was thankful to receive some fresh food for him and his 16-year-old son.

“It’s good healthy food that wasn’t old or getting fungus on it,” he said, as he waited to go through the distribution a second time. Canal, who is a disabled veteran, leaned on a walker as he spoke.

He, too, spoke with hope about his son’s future.

“He’s thinking of college already,” Canal said. He added his son wants to be a police officer – or maybe the mayor.

Do you need food? Visit the Community Food Bank websiteto find out where you can get help. Do you want to help?  Find out how you can donate your time, money, or food.

  • More about poverty and hunger in the San Joaquín Valley: Poverty rates increase, Vida en el Valle, Sept. 21, 2011

On blog, community correspondents shine light on Valley health issues

In August 2010, I wrote about Northern California public radio station KQED’s search for a community health blogger from West Fresno County. Just over a year later, I’m excited to share that KQED has finally found a citizen correspondent from Mendota to write for the blog, ‘Our State of Health: California Reports.’

The new correspondent is Sam Rubio of Mendota and you can check out his first blog post here. In this opening post, he introduces readers to the residents of this West Fresno County farmworker city, and describes the barriers to health and health care they face.

I’m excited that Sam – a longtime resident of Mendota, who has been very active in the community – will be adding the voice of the San Joaquín Valley to this blog. (I’ve never met Sam, but in 2009, I blogged about Da Amici, the cool independent coffee shop he opened in the West Fresno County farmworker community.)

And there are more opportunities for Valley residents to shine a light on their communities’ health concerns: KQED is currently searching for correspondents from South Sacramento and Merced. Check it out! Community correspondents need no journalism background – they just need to be familiar with the health issues of their local community, and be interested in learning about multimedia reporting and blogging.

Pictured above: In 2009, a three-year drought hit the west side of Fresno County hard. Without agricultural jobs, many farmworkers and their families had to receive food at food distributions. (Photos by Vida en el Valle)

Preview: Teatro Obesity

UPDATE: ‘Theatrical play pulls obesity battle onto stage‘ ran in the July6, 2011 edition of Vida.

For decades, Agustin Lira has created theatrical performances that promote social messages. Through his plays, Lira – the co-founder of El Teatro Campesino, who also formed El Teatro de la Tierra in 1969, and co-founded Teatro Inmigrante in 2001 – has highlighted farmworker and immigration issues.

This year, he is honing in on another social issue that is impacting the Latino community. Through a partnership with the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program (CCROPP,) Lira and Teatro Inmigrante co-founder Patricia Wells Solórzano will develop a play about obesity. (In the San Joaquín Valley, 71 percent of Latino adults are overweight or obese.)

In a phone interview, Lira said he is confident that teatro can be used to educate the community about obesity.

“It has worked in the past to get the message out about different issues,” he said. The production, he said, can “educate people about what things are happening and what they can do about it.”

Are you interested in participating in this bilingual project? Within the next two weeks, Lira will hold a preliminary meeting for people who are interested in performing in the production. The group is looking for people with acting experience, and those without experience who really want to learn.

Volunteer actors and actresses will be involved for a period of two months of rehearsal (two meeting per week) with 5 or 6 theatrical performances at the end of the project. For more information about Teatro Obesity, contact (559) 485-8558.

Above: Lira and Wells Sólorzano perform in ‘A Yellow Rose from Texas: Emma Tenayuca’ in 2007. Photo by Juan Esparza Loera.

The great chocolate milk debate: Does it do a body good?

UPDATE: Read ‘Chocolate, strawberry milk fall out of flavor’ here.

Since Los Angeles Unified School District last week became the largest school district in the nation to ban chocolate and strawberry milk from school menus, the topic of flavored milk has received a lot of regional attention.

So what are the policies on flavored milk in San Joaquín Valley school districts? I was curious to find out how the region’s high levels of poverty, and high rates of overweight and obese kids, would play into the discussion.

Here’s a regional overview of chocolate milk policies. I’ll add more to this list as I hear about them!

In Modesto: Criss Atwell, of Modesto City Schools, said the district is keeping flavored milk on the menu, in an effort to ensure that the district’s low-income students continue to receive adequate nutrition at school.

“We have concerns that eliminating chocolate milk could impact many students’ calcium and Vitamin D intake, since lunch may be the only complete meal some students consume all day,” Atwell said in an email.

In Manteca: The Manteca Unified School District – which in 2009 won seven Gold School Awards in the HealthierUS School Challenge, through the US Department of Agriculture – is not considering banning chocolate milk from its lunch menu. (The district does not offer strawberry milk, which contains even more sugar.)

Instead, the district switched to chocolate milk made without corn syrup, and is working on reducing the number of grams of sugar per container, according to Patty Page, director of nutrition services.

“The other thing that is important to me is teaching children about making wise choices,” Page said in an e-mail. “I think that they should understand that although they may have a sweet tooth, it is healthier to choose chocolate milk rather than soda. Although it does have sugar, it also has other health benefits, unlike soda.”

In Fresno: José Alvarado, of the Fresno Unified School District, said the district is “looking into all sugars on the menu,” including in flavored milk and juices.

“It’s not necessarily just chocolate milk that has sugar,” he said in a phone interview.

In Earlimart: The district stopped serving chocolate milk in April, said food service director Clint Lara. The district now offers just 2% milk and non-fat milk.

“Yeah, we beat LA, they just got all the attention,” Lara said.

What is your take? Here’s mine: I admit, chocolate milk will always hold a special place in my heart. It tasted great with my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in third grade.

More on chocolate milk in schools: