GAVA: Food access sector

La Voz is a cross-issue, geographic team of residents based in a microneighborhood that was born in response to barriers to access in the community. The first geographic team, established in a neighborhood of 78745, was charged with addressing multiple issues related to GAVA’s four focus sectors. Their neighborhood principal was not yet ready to partner in this effort, so the team would worked outside the school to create initiatives such as additional recreational programs and an off-campus farm stand to address barriers to healthy living.

One of the most commonly cited barriers in the micro-neighborhood was the difficulty of accessing healthy food there. To address this, the team had a dual strategy: build awareness of and motivation to change the barriers to healthy food and start implementation efforts. How? By working with corner stores to provide healthier options and looking for opportunities to work with farm stands.

While retail strategies stalled as technical assistance expertise was identified, the team was not deterred. They made significant progress in creating farm stands and driving demand for the healthier inventory available at the diffuse access points. In 2013, the focus shifted and, since then, the 50 La Voz members—led by 15 primary leaders—have proven that community members can organize and scale their efforts to build sustainable programs.

Collaboration

La Voz can now claim responsibility for leading the establishment of the first resident-led farm stand in the two GAVA zip codes and establishing a blueprint for farm stands throughout the city. With a community aware of the importance of increased access to healthy foods, the residents have been relentless in their pursuit to open the first resident-led farm stand. The collaboration among residents and community partners increases the likelihood of sustainability in these critical points of access. The school communities have taken note and a second resident-led team out of Cunningham Elementary, using the blueprints of La Voz, will be able to establish their very own farm stand later in the year.

The farm stands are located in the 78745 community at the Sierra Ridge Apartments and Cunningham Elementary School- both in close proximity to a large number of children and families. They offer produce and vegetables to residents in the neighborhood. And the cross zip code sharing has begun: A newly formed geographic team in 78744 has formed a committee to bring a farm stand to their community by the spring of 2016.

Thanks to the hard work of the Sustainable Food Center (SFC), a partner in the GAVA coalition, Austin Farmshare was brought on to partner with residents and supply produce for the resident-led farm stands. Their local, fresh inventory is sold at a low price point, allowing more families to purchase the healthy food. SFC staff also helped residents define and execute implantation of the resident led farm stands, training residents in every aspect, from setting up the produce for sale, to running SNAP machines at the stands.

To ease replication in other communities, a formal operational handbook will be produced in the fall of 2015 so others might benefit from GAVA’s experience. Now that community engagement has been stoked, and with the identification of a strong technical assistant, the food retail strategy has gathered significant momentum, too.

The La Voz’ mission is to be a unified voice for the residents of the St. Elmo neighborhood in 78745. Their collective efforts to amplify the needs of the community have done more than create awareness. La Voz initiated action.

Advocacy

The La Voz’ mission is to be a unified voice for the residents of the St. Elmo neighborhood in 78745. Their collective efforts to amplify the needs of the community have done more than create awareness. La Voz initiated action. Their diligence and dedication convinced GAVA organizers and other partners that new farm stands would be patronized, managed and sustained by the community. They also gathered energy and resources for a strategy that would have remained stalled without their efforts.

Results

Systemic change doesn’t happen overnight. We are encouraged by the efforts thus far, but healthy food access continues to be a challenge in both zip codes. Progress in residents’ acknowledgement of the issue is reflected in the GAVA evaluation results. Now more people understand the challenge they’re facing: real barriers to healthy food access that exists in their community. The neighborhood perception of barriers to fresh food options has gone up from the previous year. In areas where GAVA has seen high resident engagement (near Houston Elementary) and the percentage of residents reporting barriers (in terms of quality, affordability, availability, and distance to nutrition related assets) increased by up to 25 percent.