Empowering Community Members to Take Ownership of Their Local Food Systems
Growing evidence shows that where we live has a big impact on our health. The neighborhoods where we play, study, work, and live can affect our health in multiple ways. As a member of the Creating a Healthier Niagara Falls Collaborative and its Healthy Foods Healthy People work group, we are an active partner in making our neighborhoods healthier places to call home. Through the development of local food movements, we reinforce the importance of resident-drive change and empower residents to own their local food system and take actions to improve it. This work has evolved into an organizing movement that prioritizes the voices, wants and needs of residents living in these neighborhoods.
Through our work with the Niagara Falls Local Food Action Plan, the revitalization of the Niagara Falls City Market, efforts to shift conversations towards food advocacy, introduction of healthy retail initiatives, and promotion of more civic engagement, we aim to eliminate the economic and physical barriers that exist in our neighborhoods. The stronger our local communities, the more capacity we have to address our toughest challenges, and the more capable we are of surviving and thriving through economic and social crises.
Niagara Falls Local Food Action Plan
In January 2017, the Healthy Food Healthy People work group, part of the Creating a Healthier Niagara Falls Collaborative, along with experienced food planning consultants Amy Baskes and Joanna Helon, embarked on a year-long planning process to create the Niagara Falls Local Food Action Plan. This resident-driven/informed process was grounded in the belief that all residents of Niagara Falls should have access to nutritious and affordable food.
The NFLFAP provides a framework of common goals and actions that serve to bring together residents, schools, community organizations, businesses and local government in supporting a healthy, strong, and resilient local food system. The plan’s goals and actions represent those that were identified by residents and stakeholders, ranked highest amongst subcommittee members and represent those with the greatest potential for a positive impact on the unique food related issues facing the Niagara Falls community. The plan seeks to address the results of significant social issues such as poverty, underemployment and unemployment that contribute to inequalities in access to fresh, affordable food for Niagara Falls residents.
Through this resident-informed planning process, the vision for the plan evolved to tackling food access issues in four priority areas: agriculture, healthy neighborhoods, education, and economic development. By the time it was completed, more than 400 unique community members made their voice heard.
Interested in more details about the Niagara Falls Local Food Action Plan?
Download the Niagara Falls Local Food Action Plan to view all the details including the goals, proposed actions, and framework of the plan.
Reimagining the Niagara Falls City Market
Improving market operations at the Niagara Falls City Market was identified as a key priority in the Niagara Falls Local Food Action Plan. Field & Fork Network intends to work with current vendors, City Officials, residents and other stakeholders to develop a vision for the market that is part of the City’s overall development for the Pine Avenue area.
Farmers markets thrive as a viable part of the community food system and are organized to create personal connections that provide benefits for local farmers, customers and the surrounding communities. In August 2022, Niagara Falls city officials agreed to allow Field & Fork Network to manage the market operations. Since taking over the market, we have laid the groundwork to improve community access to local fresh produce by implementing programs like SNAP and Double Up Food Bucks, a nutrition incentive program that offers low-income individuals’ money to purchase local fresh produce.
Additionally, Field & Fork Network has strengthened market opportunities for the vendors through special events and marketing support, such as the Artisan Market. This special event was designed to breath more life into what has been a staple off Pine Avenue near 18th Street for, by most estimates at least 100 years, or at least more years than most people who still frequent the market can remember.
In November 2022, Field & Fork Network was awarded a USDA grant that will provide the necessary funding to strengthen the market operations even further, make capital improvements, recruit new vendors, support community events and engage the community. The grant is a part of the USDA’s Farmers Market Promotion Program, awarded to 55 organizations across the country, Field & Fork Network was one of only five in New York that was selected.
From Healthy Corner Stores to Healthy Retail
With the support of KeyBank in partnership with the First Niagara Foundation, Field & Fork Network, in conjunction with the Healthy Food Healthy People work group, launched a healthy corner store initiative to bring healthy food options to the Niagara Falls community. This initiative focuses on corner stores in lower-income neighborhoods throughout Niagara Falls, which often have the least access to healthy foods and the highest rates of diet-related disease. It will not only encourage, but also give local businesses the tools to understand the importance and financial benefit to supporting fresh food sales. Residents will be empowered to not only choose to eat healthy foods, but also have access to them, especially in those neighborhoods that may not have any other grocery options.
Introducing healthy options into neighborhood-based corner stores, in conjunction with a SNAP incentive program like Double Up Food Bucks, greatly benefits the most food insecure residents of Niagara Falls, namely those with significant barriers to accessing food. In the coming months, Field & Fork Network will broaden the scope of this effort to Healthy Retail to encompass both corner stores and grocery stores.
Food is at the center of our lives. We all eat and what we eat impacts our health, our environment, our sense of community, and the quality of our lives. Many people within the Niagara Falls communities have lived for years without stable and consistent access to fresh, nourishing foods due to lack of access influenced by systemic barriers such as structural racism and economic inequality. There is a network of organizations in Niagara Falls working to build a stronger food system for their communities, but these efforts do not always include enough resident engagement. Those who face the greatest local food systems challenges deserve to share their experiences and take part in solving the issues that they face. Food advocacy is one way to support community members in driving change and being a part of the solution.
Shifting towards food advocacy means we must recognize that:
- Everyone should be able to access food with dignity
- Sustainable change is community-led
- Addressing the root causes of problems requires direct policy action
Food advocacy is about more than just giving people a seat at the table. The goal is community ownership of the food system and recognizing the power of community voices in driving change. When residents are supplied with the tools to fight for themselves and their communities, more sustainable solutions are built, and more people can access food with dignity and with greater ownership and control over their futures.
Field & Fork Network is cultivating conversations with various partners in the Niagara Falls area to engage residents in the formation of a food advocacy agenda.
Interested in learning more about our Healthy Neighborhoods initiatives?
The work we’re doing to develop and drive healthier neighborhoods across Western New York is ongoing and ever evolving. If you want to discuss any of these initiatives in more details or have questions about our work, please contact Tom Lowe, the Niagara Falls Local Food Action Plan Project Director.