Strategies for a Changing Food Environment
The food retail environment of Baltimore City has seen
significant changes this summer. With four grocery store closures and three new
stores opening, many residents have felt immediate effects on their ability to
access food. Supermarkets are anchors in
a community. When a store departs, it
leaves an immediate need for creative short-term fixes to get food to residents,
as well as a need for a long-term solution to fill the storefront. When a new
supermarket opens, it creates possibilities for partnerships and strategic interventions
around healthy food availability.
As one part of a comprehensive approach to better respond to
and anticipate these store fluctuations, the City created The Baltimore Food
Policy Initiative (BFPI). This intergovernmental collaboration housed in the
Office of Sustainability is comprised of Planning, the Baltimore Development
Corporation (BDC), and the Health Department (BCHD). Working together, the City
takes a multifaceted approach to policies and programs that address the
barriers to and opportunities for improving food access.
Understanding how supermarkets in urban areas face unique
circumstances, BFPI developed a Food Desert Retail Strategy to preempt and
respond to food access challenges.
This strategy is a catalyst to address the health, employment, and economic
disparities that exist in food deserts and will utilize four key approaches:
- Expand and Retain Quality Grocery Stores,
- Create Grocery Job Training
- Support Food Entrepreneurism, and
- Create a Healthy Corner Store
The Mayor celebrates the opening of a new Shop Rite in Howard Park, with enthusiastic residents and children.
addition to supporting supermarkets, these strategies seek to improve the whole
food environment – from farmers markets to corner stores to food trucks – to
ensure diverse opportunities for accessing affordable healthy food.
To enact these strategies, Baltimore City has created staff
positions dedicated to food access. This spring, two new positions were filled
specifically to bring multiple perspectives to food access and retail – Sarah
Buzogany, a Food Access Planner in the Planning Department and Michael Snidal,
a Food Retail Economic Development Officer at BDC. These employees, along with
the Food Access Coordinator at the Health Department, work together to support the
City’s goals by ensuring that food retail and food access issues are addressed
from all angles.
SNAP at Baltimore Farmers Market and Bazaar
This summer, farmers at the Baltimore
Farmers Market and Bazaar (BFMB) became some of the first in the country to
accept SNAP (formerly food stamp) benefits via smartphone technology. Nearly 30% of
Baltimore City residents receive SNAP benefits, and as the largest farmers
market in Baltimore, it is essential that it is easy to spend SNAP dollars on
healthy foods at BFMB. BFPI has worked closely with the Maryland Farmers Market
Association (MDFMA) and the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts (BOPA)
on the launch of this program.
As SNAP customers spend their
benefits, each dollar is matched 1-to-1, up to $10 per week, in electronic
Maryland Market Money (formerly Bonus Bucks). BFMB is the largest farmers
market in the country to use this technology and vendors can accept SNAP,
credit, debit, and Maryland Market Money individually at their stalls, with no
cost of entry. MDFMA secured federal funding for this transition and is
training all vendors and the market manager on implementing the program.
The BFMB is open every Sunday,
7:00am to12:00pm, April through December, underneath the Jones Falls Expressway at Holliday and Saratoga Streets.
Homegrown Baltimore Employee Wellness CSA
Last month Mayor Rawlings-Blake was joined by Maryland
Secretary of Agriculture Buddy Hance to celebrate the new Homegrown Baltimore
Workplace Wellness CSA as part of the Buy Local Challenge.
supported agriculture (CSA) model connects consumers directly to farmers
through a weekly share of fresh vegetables and fruits that the consumer pays
for at the beginning of the season.
Baltimore City has taken that model and
linked it to employee wellness by having two local farmers deliver shares directly
to City offices once per week from June through November. Through the
Managerial and Professional Society of Baltimore (MAPS), our City is the first
to include CSA shares as a reimbursable expense under a health and welfare
reimbursement. MAPS employees can now choose to use their reimbursement on any
CSA, including the City’s program.
Nearly 150 people have signed up for the CSA, with new
participants joining each week. Many employees have reported trying new
vegetables for the first time and are sharing recipes with colleagues.
If you, or someone you know is a City employee, it’s not too late to sign up for the 2014 CSA! For more information, contact
Joanna Winkler, CSA coordinator at Joanna.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get Fresh Kids at Lexington Market
Lexington Market offers a wide variety of prepared foods,
fresh produce, meat, seafood and specialty items right in downtown Baltimore. BFPI
has been working with Lexington Market vendors for several years to increase
the availability of healthy options at the market and highlight these healthier
choices. Realizing that the thousands of kids that visit the market each year
had few healthy options geared towards them, BFPI and Lexington Market launched
Get Fresh Kids (GFK) this spring.
Nine vendors now offer healthy kids meals as
part of GFK. Kids can order a child-friendly entrée portion with a side of
fruit or vegetables, and a choice of water, milk or 100% fruit juice for under
$5. To pair these healthy options with nutrition lessons, GFK holds monthly
fruit and vegetable art workshops. Kids can make art with healthy foods like
grapes and cabbage and have the chance to taste new fruits and vegetables,
while parents and care givers learn a short nutrition message and get fun ideas
for introducing new healthy foods to their families.