To learn how to translate ambitious goals into a successful community food assessment, check out the great work that Fresno Fresh Access has carried forward and the results they’ve been able to achieve.
Fresno County, located in California’s Central Valley, is a culturally diverse county with over 800,000 residents. It is the most productive agricultural county in the nation, yet it also has some of the highest unemployment and poverty rates in California, and childhood hunger and diet-related diseases are prevalent.
In fall of 2002, Fresno Metro Ministry started the planning process for a community food assessment, working in partnership with a wide range of organizations, including youth empowerment groups, farm organizations, schools, faith based groups and with support from the California Nutrition Network and the Community Food Security Coalition. Over the course of the next year, the group developed project goals and survey materials with an eye to the cultural diversity in Fresno. In June 2003, Fresno Metro Ministry was awarded a USDA Community Food Projects grant, which enabled the food assessment to expand to the entire county.
Recruiting and training residents to conduct surveys in their neighborhoods was a major component of the project, and an important strategy for empowering the community. Over 30 local organizations were involved, and over 850 surveys were completed. The surveyors received training in how to conduct the survey, and discussed the purpose of the survey and how results would be collated and analyzed. These trainings also led to lively discussion of their concepts of neighborhood and barriers to food access.
Metro staff and trainers provided support to the surveyors while they were in the field, and reconvened them after the two-week survey period to do a short focus group and a qualitative analysis of the information they had collected. This sharing of experiences proved to be very valuable for integrating learning and empowering the surveyors. Many of them got excited about being engaged in a community process and volunteered to do more.
The high level of cultural diversity was a wonderful and challenging aspect of the project. Over 100 languages are spoken in Fresno County. Cultural groups involved in the project included Latino/a, Hmong, Cambodian, Punjabi and Native American. Working with interpreters, immigrant organizations and ethnic farming groups was key to allow the project to effectively engage members of a low-income, multicultural community in creating a rich picture of food access in their community.
The focus on developing relationships with local policy makers and assessing neighborhoods within specific supervisory districts in order to shape local policies also were key elements of the Fresno project. Effective media and communications techniques, including monthly community forums and a press conference, helped influence policymakers and garner public support.
Photo: Fresno Farmers Market, courtesy of Fresno Metro Ministry
The Community Food Assessment was completed and results released in 2005. The recommendations included establishing a Food and Built Environment Policy Group. As a direct result of the assessment, Fresno Metro Ministry went on to coordinate this group, with the county health department and California State University as partners and funding from the California Endowment. Also on the basis of the assessment results, Metro received a grant to plan an intervention to improve the environment for access to food and physical activity in a specific neighborhood of southeast Fresno. Another important outcome was the adoption of a comprehensive Wellness Policy by Fresno Unified School District, the fourth largest school district in California. Fresno Metro Ministry is confident that the widespread community engagement that resulted from the assessment will have a long-lasting impact on improving food security in Fresno County.
Source: Fresno Fresh Access Engages Diverse Communities and Local Policymakers, Edie Jesup, Community Food Security News, Spring 2004.