Brownsville Food Justice Project
Building Healthy Communities
March 23, 2018
Food insecurity—the inability to access an adequate amount of affordable, nutritious food—can lead to a range of health issues, including obesity and diabetes.
Federal programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) attempt to combat food insecurity among low-income people and improve the health of families. In the NYSHealth Healthy Neighborhoods Fund community of Brownsville, Brooklyn, 45% of households rely on SNAP to afford food, including nearly 60% of households with children. Although many SNAP beneficiaries desire to eat healthy food, the inequitable distribution of fresh food, poor quality of produce, and lack of access to healthy options in low-income neighborhoods like Brownsville make it harder for recipients to make healthy choices. Furthermore, 39% of Brownsville residents do not live within walking distance of a food retailer meeting the Department of City Planning requirements for fresh, healthy food. In 2018, NYSHealth awarded Isabahlia Ladies of Elegance Foundation (ILOEF), through fiscal sponsor Community Solutions International, a grant to establish an outreach program that will train young people to advocate for improved produce in Brownsville supermarkets.
Under this grant, ILOEF established the Student Ambassador Program, a two-year education and outreach program for youth between the ages of 16 and 24. Student ambassadors conducted a six-month supermarket survey in Brownsville and East New York that examined local grocery stores for produce freshness, pricing, cleanliness, and false advertising. Specifically, they assessed the quality of food and fresh produce available in supermarkets, as well as whether the supermarkets raise product prices at the time when residents need to use SNAP benefits. The data collected was used to support the advocacy efforts of both ILOEF and the Brownsville/East New York Food Advisory Council to improve the quality of food in these neighborhoods and health outcomes for residents. In addition, the student ambassadors used ILOEF’s five urban farms in Brownsville as classrooms to learn about urban agriculture and improvements to food access. The student participants led food demonstrations and gardening and composting workshops in the community to share their knowledge and raise awareness about healthy eating.