Brooklyn-Based Coalitions Improving Food Options and Opportunities for Physical Activity

by Pamela Koch

photo source: Christopher Schoenbohm (Flickr)

Even though New York is one city, each borough is also an entity of its own. This is the first of a series of articles that will highlight some of the work going on across the boroughs. Brooklyn has several coalitions that are actively engages in programs and advocacy to make Brooklyn a borough where healthy food is the easy, desired, and expected choice and active living is the norm.

The Brooklyn Food Coalition was born out of the 2009 Brooklyn Food Conference, that was attended by over 3000 people. Keeping its grassroots base, it has grown into an active organization that is dedicated to developing a just and sustainable food system in Brooklyn through a multi-racial, multi-cultural alliance of residents and community-based groups from all parts of Brooklyn that reflect the borough’s rich diversity. The second Brooklyn Food Conference, in 2012, drew over 5000 people, and gave a huge boost to bringing food and food issues to the front The Brooklyn Food Coalition has several other programs, The School Food Network provides resources, trainings, and support to parents, schools, and students advocating for changes to food served in schools, building gardens in schools, and creating a culture of wellness in schools for NYC school children. The Policy Committee explores why our food system is broken and what we can do to fix it. The Labor Committee works on the rights of all workers in the food system, in New York City and beyond because we cannot have a sustainable food system if it is not just to all those who work in it.

The New York City Food & Fitness Partnership, funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, started in 2007 as a citywide initiative and then moved to be Brooklyn focused in 2009. In summer, 2012 the managing agency for the partnership moved from the citywide organization, City Harvest, to Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, which more firmly plant their roots in Brooklyn and is reenergizing their work. The goal is to work on policy and system changes that will make healthy choices the easy choices. Underling everything the New York City Food and Fitness Partnership does is the engagement of youth and making youth an active part of changing the food and activity environment. Through working with Flip the Table, youth take part in thoughtful conversations about what is challenging and wrong with our food system and ways to constructively change it. The Partnership works to improve community food by transforming food retail outlets to have more healthy, green, fair, and affordable food. The Partnership also works to improve school food through advocating for better child nutrition policy, and through working with Brooklyn Food Coalition and others to provide parents with resources to work with the Office of SchoolFood to improve the food that is served. Additionally, the Partnership works to increase bike lanes and safe places for walking.

Catalyst Cares is the newest initiative in Brooklyn. Launched in 2010, Catalyst Cares has worked to improve food desert communities. Their first project was the Healthy Retail Task Force. Through assembling community-based, multi-disciplinary steering committee they created and are now implementing an anti-obesity strategic plan that increases supermarkets and works to increase fresh and healthy food in small retailers. Catalyst Cares second project is Let’s Move! Brooklyn that was founded in January, 2012 and had a launch event on July 18 at Brooklyn Borough Hall. Let’s Move! Brooklyn has programs that educate and inspire parents and children to make healthier dietary and physical activity choices through art-based and culturally sensitive nutrition education programs, and through policy and system change improvements to the built environment that improve the physical structure while also increasing safety.

These coalitions compliment and support each other, and often work together. However, they each have their individual focus and strengths and with these groups, along with other Brooklyn-based groups and citywide groups, we can work borough by borough to make New York City a model environment with ample options to make sustainable, just, healthy food choices, and plenty of opportunities for safe and enjoyable physical activity.