The little girl hesitantly holds a container of greens out to one of the farmers at the weekly market. She asks to return them. The farmer questions her. The girl says her mother does not want her to have them. The farmer will not take them back, but offers her a cucumber in their place. A minute later, the girl’s grandmother approaches the table, thrusting the greens out. The girl’s mother does not want her to have them, the woman says. Pushed for why, the grandmother changes the story. She says the child is allergic. The farmer calls her bluff; the girl was eating the greens before buying any. The greens will go to waste, the girl won’t eat them, the grandmother says. The farmer does not take them back, but offers a cash refund. The grandmother storms off.
This is not the first or even second time this has happened, the farmer tells me. Children are curious about fresh, wholesome foods, and for whatever reason, the parents do not let them partake.
A sad scene on any day, this unfolded minutes after “How Hartford is Eating: A 2013 Report on Nutrition in Hartford” was released by The Connecticut Forum just yards away from that farmer’s booth at the Billings Forge Farmers’ Market.
Tim Cole — who serves as Principal of West Wind Consulting and compiled the report — said that he was not surprised by the findings, but remains “disturbed” that “Hartford is as badly off as any place in the country” in terms of food scarcity and obesity.
The report released today grew from a request made during the “Our Fragile Earth” panel at the Connecticut Forum.
Mayor Segarra said, “the report is clear” and its “call to action” is “inspiring.”
One of the issues Hartford faces, according to the report, is that:
unhealthy options — fast food outlets including both big name franchises and somewhat less visible corner convenience stores — are in many parts of the community more readily accessible than venues that offer healthy food, including large and medium sized grocery stores and especially farmers’ markets, which are seasonal and typically open only a few hours a week.
The Billings Forge Farmers’ Market is currently the only one in Hartford that is open year round, with reduced selection during colder months.
The report states that 13.7% of residents in Hartford County are considered “food insecure,” meaning that not all members of the household have consistent access to food.
Segarra recounted his own history, saying: “I have a little bit of experience with hunger.”
As a child, Hartford’s mayor went “continuous days without nothing to eat,” an experience he said made him question as a child what he did wrong or if his parents loved him.
“We don’t need any more children asking those things,” Richard Sugarman, the Founding President of the CT Forum said.
Besides food security, the report looked at obesity, for which 40% of Hartford children (compare to 25% statewide) are at risk.
These are issues that impact “tens of thousands of human beings,” Tim Cole said of this finding on how children are affected.
That alone should be reason to address these problems, but Cole said not everyone knows the extent of the issue. They understand on some level, he said, but they don’t “put all the pieces together.” There is also a lack of coordination between existing resources, which were described by Sugarman as “hardworking.” This, Cole said, is not necessarily a barrier, but could be improved upon.
Cole said that he has “a lot of admiration for” and “confidence in” Mayor Segarra and does not believe we will be in the same place with nutrition issues five years down the line.
Foodshare, Hartford Food System, Hispanic Health Council, UConn Department of Allied Health Sciences, Hartford Childhood Wellness Alliance, City of Hartford’s Health and Human Services, Connecticut Coalition Against Childhood Obesity, Connecticut Food System Alliance, and End Hunger Connecticut were identified as assets. The Hartford Advisory Commission on Food Policy reports to the City of Hartford and has made a series of recommendations that Cole believes should be supported. Among them:
- ensuring the City increases and maximizes use of the Federal Child Nutrition Programs such as school breakfast, after-school snacks, and summer nutrition programs.
- having the Department of Health and Human Services revise its guidelines for licensed daycare facilities so nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are emphasized.
- creating gardens at all of the public schools so children learn about food through experience
- revising municipal codes to permit more widespread urban agriculture
- revising municipal codes, specifically zoning ordinances, to “ban fast-food restaurants from being established in certain areas of urban centers,” or at minimum, requiring retailers to stock both perishable and non-perishable food. A side effect of the latter is that criminal activity associated with corner convenience stores would be reduced.
Beyond this, the report recommends a “coordinated campaign” with “the full and committed support” of Hartford Public Schools and the Board of Education, City leadership and agencies, philanthropic sector, neighborhood and faith-based organizations, local retail and business communities, and the leading healthcare, nonprofit, and educational institutions.
Cole said that “collective impact” is a positive strategy. The next steps involve creation of a steering committee, tentatively meeting at the end of this month or the beginning of August. A stakeholder conference to review goals and create work groups is another step.
A public awareness campaign, however, was pushed hard, with Sugarman saying that the report should be shared “with a sense of urgency” because “raising the intensity is really important.
Read the full report: “How Hartford is Eating: A 2013 Report on Nutrition in Hartford” developed by The Connecticut Forum