Partnership for a Healthier America Helps Families Access Affordable Produce

CEO’s Corner - July 6, 2021

PHA is working toward a powerful goal — one where access to affordable and healthier food is available for sale in every single zip code in the United States.

And, we are working on that by building a bridge from charitable distribution of healthier foods to retail access.

Let’s get into it…

Man with bananas Back in March 2020, when we were all reeling from COVID and coming to terms with the depth and breadth of the coming pandemic, supporters and friends of PHA were reaching out with tales of millions of tons of produce headed to composters. With restaurants shut down, there was a glut of excess fruits and vegetables so overwhelming that neither grocers nor food banks could absorb it all.

We quickly stood up a program that leveraged our knowledge and experience in emergency food work to get that produce to families in need. We paired produce that would have otherwise been discarded with recipes and information that made it easier for families to turn it into quick, delicious meals. And, we named this program the COVID-19 Fresh Food Fund to recognize the need of communities for immediate relief in the wake of the pandemic.

Through the COVID-19 Fresh Food Fund, we provided households with 50 servings of fruits and vegetables per week, allowing each family member to have two additional servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Data shows that when exposed to that volume of produce for that length of time, individuals and families develop what we refer to as “the healthy habit of produce.” At PHA, we call this practice a saturation model. Our rationale for using a saturation model was that when the program stopped, at least families would have experience with produce, and a newfound taste preference for it.

But we took the program a step further. We knew it wouldn’t last forever, so we decided to learn what we could about participants’ eating habits and preferences while we could. We collected data on the particular fruits and vegetables that families enjoyed least and most. We also collected data on what — if anything — those families would be willing to pay for those fruits and vegetables. We learned that more than half of recipients were willing to pay the wholesale price of food. And we were thrilled about that discovery because this is the necessary future, a future, not where people are on the receiving end of charity for life, but where our society figures out a way to make healthy food affordable.

Fresh Food Fund volunteer hands out box of healthy fruits and vegetables. It is rewarding to see this work taking root: In Denver, where we first launched this program, The Co-op at 1st, who PHA had worked with to distribute Whole Foods quality produce, agreed to now offer produce at wholesale prices to program participants. Every week, The Co-op at 1st currently sells approximately 40 boxes of fresh, high-quality produce for as low as $20 dollars per box. And 1 out of every 3 customers uses SNAP or Double Up Food Bucks. In other words, the needs that were being met through PHA’s charitable distribution in partnership with The Co-op at First are now being met by The Co-op at 1st for payment. While The Co-op at 1st isn’t getting rich off this arrangement, they aren’t losing money either. They are participating in a sustainable program that’s empowering their community with good food and cultivating health equity at the same time.

This, my friend, is what our work is all about. PHA’s mission is to transform the food landscape in pursuit of health equity. By distributing free, good food when it is most needed, and then learning from those consumers about what they like, we can help retailers and entrepreneurs meet that demand.

In the wake of COVID, it is no longer acceptable to live in a two-tiered food system where those of means eat foods that promote good health while people with less eat foods likely to cause diabetes, heart disease, or even cancer.

We will never have health equity in this country unless we have food equity. And we will never have food equity unless we do something tomorrow that we are not doing today.

PHA is doing it. We are doing something today that we weren’t doing yesterday. We are learning and working smarter in our mission to bring affordable retail access to every zip code in this country.