“Treme” star Wendell Pierce joins farmers, anti-hunger and food advocates to press Congress for healthy food/healthy economies

April 29, 2013

Source: PRWeb

Tri-Caucus briefing focuses on collaboration by Fair Food Network, Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), and PolicyLink.

Wendell Pierce, star of HBO’s “Treme” and “The Wire,” joined farmers, anti-hunger and food advocates today to brief members of Congress and their staff on policy proposals to reduce hunger, promote healthy food access and improve local economies through links with regional farmers.

“Lack of food access is an issue in New Orleans and across the country,” said Pierce, who co-founded the Sterling Farm grocery store chain in his hometown New Orleans to bring fresh food to low-income communities.

The briefing was sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (the Tri-Caucus).

Presenters at the briefing offered strong support for projects like the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, a federal program that offers funding and other resources to increase access to healthy food in underserved neighborhoods.

"Public-private partnerships like the National Healthy Food Financing Initiative are making a real difference in the lives of people in Louisiana and beyond,” Pierce said. “I look forward to working with partners across the country to forge solutions for a healthier America."

Oran Hesterman and Wendell Pierce
Wendell Pierce examines a copy of Oran Hesterman's Fair Food

“In Ohio and throughout the nation, millions of vulnerable Americans are struggling to put food on the table,” said Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, who represents Ohio’s 11th District, chairs the Congressional Black Caucus and is the Ranking Minority Member of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight and Nutrition.

“To compound the issue, many of these families live in food deserts where they have little or no access to fresh and affordable foods,” Congresswoman Fudge said. “The Healthy Food Financing Initiative, a welcome and much-needed effort, addresses these issues by expanding access to fresh produce and locally grown foods that are critical to improving proper nutritional choices in our underserved communities.”

The presenters at the briefing represented the Food and Agriculture Policy Collaborative, a partnership of national and local organizations that promote a vision of food security, healthy food and healthy economies. National lead partners are Fair Food Network, Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and PolicyLink.

The collaborative focuses on four policy priorities the positive impacts of which are multiplied when advanced as a cohesive set of goals:

  1. Protecting and strengthening Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) and eligibility;
  2. Increasing consumer access to fresh, healthy food and creating jobs and vibrant communities through the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI);
  3. Improving access to healthy fresh food and supporting local farmers and economies through healthy food incentives; and
  4. Creating economic opportunities for family farmers and expanding access to healthy food through improved infrastructure for local and regional farm and food systems.

SNAP is vital to millions across the nation, from children, seniors and working adults, to school and health systems, to farmers and grocers, to cities and states, said Lucy Nolan, executive director of End Hunger Connecticut!, who also spoke at the briefing.

“Studies show that SNAP reduces hunger, lifts people out of poverty, improves nutrition, boosts health among both children and adults, supports America's farmers, and creates economic growth in the communities—rural, suburban and urban—where SNAP benefits are used," Nolan said.

Fair Food Network, one of the partner organizations in the Food and Agriculture Policy Collaborative, has spearheaded the Double Up Food Bucks program in Michigan, which doubles the value of SNAP benefits when used at local farmers markets. During the briefing, Vicki Zilke, owner of Zilke Vegetable Farm in Milan, Mich. as well as a registered nurse, spoke about the importance of incentivizing SNAP use at farmers markets.

“As a farmer, I know that SNAP is an important part of my business at the market,” Zilke said. “And as a retired nurse, I’m glad Double Up Food Bucks helps families use SNAP dollars to buy fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables. How perfect is that?”

Vicki Zilke
In a gesture familiar to all Michiganders, farmer Vicki Zilke points out
where "on the mitten" her farm is located.

In Congress’ Farm Bill extension earlier this year, many programs that help farmers provide fresh, healthy foods to their communities were left without funding. During the briefing, Mark Bowen, farm manager at Hampstead Farms in Montgomery, Ala., spoke about the benefit these programs, many of which are included in the recently introduced Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act, have had for his farm and the families he serves.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition works with Congress and USDA to ensure that farmers like Mark Bowen are able to grow their businesses and serve their communities. "All communities deserve fresh, healthy local food,” Bowen said. “Policies that foster more and better connections between farmers and consumers help to make that happen and build healthy communities—economically, physically and socially."

“Treme” star Pierce launched Sterling Farms groceries with help from private and public resources focused on increasing access to healthy food in underserved neighborhoods. Such efforts are crucial to community health, said Judith Bell, president of PolicyLink and moderator of the briefing. HFFI can do broadly what Pierce was able to do in New Orleans, she said.

“Across the country, people need jobs, good health and revitalized neighborhoods,” Bell said. “The Healthy Food Financing Initiative makes all three possible through public/private partnerships that promote healthy communities and strong economies in low income areas and where people of color live.”

All of today’s speakers spoke about the importance of having the nation’s food and farm policy reflect these priorities: protecting the SNAP program and including provisions to help low-income Americans have easy access to affordable and nutritious regionally-produced foods.

About the Food and Agriculture Policy Collaborative
The Food and Agriculture Policy Collaborative is funded as a part of the Food and Agriculture Policy Fund established by the Convergence Partnership and other funders.

National organizations include:
Fair Food Network, http://www.fairfoodnetwork.org
Food Research and Action Center, http://www.frac.org
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, http://www.sustainableagriculture.net
PolicyLink, http://www.policylink.org.

Local Partnerships include:
D.C. Hunger Solutions, http://www.dchunger.org
Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength, http://www.mosesmi.org
The Food Trust, http://www.thefoodtrust.org
The Reinvestment Fund, http://www.trfund.com
Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, http://www.ssawg.org

Originally published at PRWeb on April 25, 2013.