Jamestown Post-Journal features GFC’s work with Chautauqua County

The Jamestown Post-Journal recently covered the work of Growing Food Connections’¬†partnership with Chautauqua County, NY, as a Community of Opportunity. The full article is posted below:

Jamestown Selected for Food Program

By Dennis Phillips, March 8, 2015

Jamestown has been included among a select group of communities nationwide to receive the designation of “Community of Opportunity.”

Eight communities – including Jamestown – across the country were recently selected to receive training and assistance in linking family farmers with local residents who lack access to healthy food. The Communities of Opportunity program is a part of the Growing Food Connections organization that helps local governments, planners, family farmers and consumers work together to strengthen their food systems.

During a three-year period, Growing Food Connections officials will help local governments create their own plans, policies, partnerships and make public investment to support family farmers and enhance food security. The Communities of Opportunity will also serve as models for other communities nationwide that face similar challenges.

Chautauqua County is the lead agency for the local initiative, with assistance from the Chautauqua County Health Network and the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation. Shelly Wells, Chautauqua County Health Network Creating Healthy Places project coordinator, said Jamestown is an ideal location for this program.

”We have the agriculture and, unfortunately, we have room to improve how people access food,” Wells said. ”The goal is to help communities that have the opportunity and the initiative to make changes to their food system to provide access to food and to support the agriculture behind the food.”

Chautauqua County’s rural population of 133,539 has a poverty rate of 18.8 percent, ranking it amongst the poorest counties in the state. The county has high rates of adult overweight/obesity at 62 percent, low daily consumption of fruits and vegetables at 25 percent, and 94 percent of school districts qualifying for free or reduced lunches.

Wells said the next step for the county is for County Executive Vince Horrigan to create a steering committee of local partners to work with the Growing Food Connections team. In April, Growing Food Connections officials will be traveling to Chautauqua County to tour the area. Wells said possible future benefits from the program include seeing policy changes to increase access to locally grown food for underprivileged community residents.

”This will be more advantageous for the farmers and the consumers,” she said.

Peter Lombardi, Jamestown Renaissance Corporation deputy director, said the county was selected because of the major presence of agriculture in Chautauqua County and the identified food deserts like the east side of Jamestown.

”We have the capacity to do something about it. The Chautauqua County Health Network in 2013 did a study with the University of Buffalo to help access for the east side of Jamestown,” he said. ”A lot of people are thinking about this problem in Jamestown, and we can use the technical support this program offers.”

Lombardi said there is no money from the program to support projects. However, he said being a part of the program can help with receiving grants to implement changes.

”It is a good thing that we are a Community of Opportunity. It will give us a leg up when requesting grants from the (U.S. Department of Agriculture),” he said. ”It is a good recognition. Chautauqua County has an interest in connecting local farmers with communities in need.”

The Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab at the University at Buffalo is the Growing Food Connections project lead agency. Samina Raja, University at Buffalo principal investigator and associate professor, said these Communities of Opportunity were selected from a competitive nationwide search and application process.

”The selected local governments will blaze a path for more than 30,000 local governments in the United States that have traditionally overlooked the problems and opportunities in their communities’ food systems,” she said.

The seven other Communities of Opportunity include Portland in Cumberland County, Maine; Albany in Dougherty County, Ga.; Las Cruces in Dona Ana County, N.M.; Omaha in Douglas County, Neb.; Deming in Luna County, N.M.; Columbus in Polk County, N.C.; and Kansas City in Wyandotte County, Kan.