Introducing East Side Table

Towards the end of programming for Urban Oasis (unfortunately, the organization dissolved recently due to lack of funding), I began attending a series of Working Group meetings that had already been over six months in the making. Put together by a local healthcare system operating in the east metro area called HealthEast, the thought was to bring various community health, mental and cultural support organization representatives into the same room to identify pilot program ideas that would address issues affecting residents living in poverty but also those primarily suffering from chronic diseases (i.e. heart disease, diabetes, hypertension) along with feelings of exclusion, cultural stigma or other mental health challenges. Since several of these issues can be present in one person, or throughout a family, and are often addressed by a number of different service organizations, the HealthEast Foundation introduced this community level project development plan in hopes of providing collaborative solutions. With invited organizations that range from dental, elder care, food insecurity, immigrant assistance and counseling, these solutions could be based on the span of skills, experiences, and resources of each organization - along with their close understanding of the diverse cultures they served.

Eventually, a plan for health and nutrition developed as did a plan for mental health and resiliency. I joined the health and nutrition team, then titled East Side Table (EST). Before my inclusion, extensive groundwork had already been laid with weekly meetings discussing which public health issues to address and how. Food access, and eventually food literacy became key issues (“The ability to know the story of where one’s food comes from—farm to table and back to the soil (i.e. seed-to-table, farm-to-fork) 1—and also to grow, plan, purchase, preserve and/or prepare food for eating.” - Minnesota Food Charter). I’ve copied the actions proposed by the EST group from the HealthEast Foundation documents provided at quarterly stakeholder events: “EST partners considered extensive research data as well as their own knowledge of the challenges to healthy eating that their low-income clients encounter every day. In May/June 2016 they surveyed 205 East Side residents regarding challenges to healthy cooking. The results mirrored those found by the Minnesota Food Charter and studies throughout the nation: the top three barriers to cooking at home are time, motivation, and expense – all of which can be addressed to some degree with improved food skills. Interestingly, survey respondents indicated little interest in cooking classes, per se (perhaps because of a perception that they would be time consuming), but they did express interest in improving cooking skills. For that reason, the partners chose to offer tastings and demonstrations rather than formal classes”

In addition to the education piece, it was suggested that a meal kit delivery service using local produce be tested as a pilot program for a large group of households. Bringing together these two solutions (though admittedly, the meal kits could be perceived as a food first-approach in my own opinion), the EST members outline their overarching goals and objectives:

Goal: Improve food skills to increase consumption of healthy foods.

Objectives:

» Improve skills to prepare healthy, safe food within one’s own food traditions

» Improve food planning, selecting & budgeting skills for those living in poverty

» Increase willingness to try new, healthier foods


Since August 2016, I have been able to bring my past experiences (planning cooking demos, administering youth cooking classes, teaching and assessing nutrition and gardening programs, and working with low income residents at the 61st Street Farmers Market) to the EST working group meetings. I feel thankful to have joined the discussion when I did, and am excited to talk about the processes of applying to accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, doubling these benefits, how I assess food education programs, and the logistics of planning cooking classes and demos. During my participation, the organizations involved frequently remarked at how we've collectively learned so much more about our own East Side community and the issues impacting our residents. We have enjoyed the individual contributions and perspectives that have shaped the EST into what it is today, and feel inspired to collaborate and connect outside of the project. Our accomplishments in the past few months will be outlined in another post shortly.