November 10, 2009

Putting healthy food back in the communities where it’s grown

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rita_hibbardwebAn Oregon woman has dedicated her professional life to traveling to Oregon’s remote corners and establishing food banks. She routinely finds that those “who live near the fields of plenty often have the stingiest access to grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and meat,” reports Paige Parker of The Oregonian.

Sharon Thornberry has been named a public health genius by the Community Health Partnership for her work at pointing out how hunger and gaps in the food system contribute to chronic disease and health problems. She looks back to her own experience raising children in poverty, and turning to the  cheapest and unhealthiest food to get by – products like boxed mac and cheese and hot dogs.

Thornberry’s work points to the problem – big grocers aren’t in the small towns where it’s hard to make money. Yet those are the communities closest to where the food is produced.

“It’s ridiculous that you can stand in the ranching community of Jordan Valley and there are thousands of cattle around you that get shipped around the world, and you can’t get any of that ground beef locally,” Thornberry says. “The best you can do is get chicken strips and jo-jos from the convenience store. When the best grocery store in town is the emergency food pantry, there’s a problem.”

A new study shows that by age 20, half of America’s kids will need food stamps. So it’s important to make sure healthy foods are available in all communities, and on the shelves of the local food banks, Thornberry believes.

— Rita Hibbard

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