Big things are happening in Los Angeles thanks to Community Services Unlimited’s program, ACTION: Active Community To Improve Our Nutrition. Find out how they engaged 750 community members at 18 sites to conduct a CFA with a lot of local insight.
Active Community To Improve Our Nutrition (ACTION) is a project launched by Community Services Unlimited, Inc. (CSU) to make positive changes around food and nutrition issues. The CSU service area, South Central Los Angeles, is flooded with stores that offer mostly high-fat, highly processed foods. In the period of the ACTION CFA, there were 50 fast food restaurants and 39 liquor stores/mini-markets in the survey area–and only eight restaurants and four supermarkets.
Community Services Unlimited (CSU) and its partners decided to conduct a food assessment because of CSU’s commitment to building the community’s health, and an understanding that food is an important link to many community problems. The Community Food Security Coalition led a training in Participatory Approaches for the ACTION participants, and ACTION combined this with approaches based on the work of Paulo Freire to facilitate learning using an existing knowledge base. The aim of the community food assessment was to do several things simultaneously: collect qualitative data from community members in an inclusive and interesting way; educate them about food and justice issues; and engage them in making long-term changes to improve the health of the community.
CSU partnered with local organizations Atlachinolli Front, Blazers Safe Haven, Healthy School Food Coalition and New Panther Vanguard Movement, and established a planning committee with these organizations and community residents. The committee collaboratively determined the vision and boundaries of the community food assessment, and carried out the work from May 2003 to January 2004.
ACTION spent two months carrying out intensive community outreach and research, targeting schools, churches, community organizations, local ‘mom and pop’ stores and individuals. The planning committee developed survey tools for targeted sectors of the community: elementary, middle and high school students; adults in group settings such as churches or community groups; and individual community members, such as shoppers outside the local Food 4 Less. ACTION tested each survey tool with the intended audience, and engaged participants in dialogue to learn their thoughts on improving and refining the tools.
As a result of the data gathered in the ACTION assessment, CSU has initiated several projects to increase the community food security, including:
- the “From the Ground Up” program, which trains post- high school youth in growing food at community urban farm sites
- the “Growing Healthy” program, which teaches nutrition education and engages students in growing food at local schools
- transformation of local liquor stores from typical convenience store fare of soda and junk food to include fresh produce, fresh breads, and other healthy items
There are additional plans to develop a nutrition education class that will teach participants how to cook quick, healthy meals with local produce.
The participatory model of the ACTION food assessment has been used by numerous groups engaged in community food assessment around the country. The model uses food justice as an entry point for discussion of many other issues, and can be a powerful community-based organizing tool. It can also lead to lasting commitment to food system change; in the words of the ACTION team: “Changing our food system is a long-term endeavor, and we are here for the long haul.”
This profile is adapted from “Taking ACTION in South Central L.A.,” Neelam Sharma, Community Food Security News, Spring 2004.