fruits and vegetables, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from www.themeetingplacenorth.co.uk’s photostream

Fresh, locally-grown fruits, vegetables, and dairy are the building blocks of a healthy diet that help prevent chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Pittsburgh has some fantastic groups working on fresh food and food security around the city and helping to promote community gardening and urban farming. Yet many of our neighborhoods are still classified as food deserts –- areas not served by retailers offering fresh foods. While strides have been made to rectify the problem, such as the grocery store being built in the Hill District, we have a great deal of work to do to ensure that all residents have access to fresh, healthy food in their neighborhoods. Cities around the country are working on innovative ways to do a better job of providing healthy food options and Pittsburgh has a lot of opportunities to learn from these initiatives and create some of our own.

1. Get Fresh Pittsburgh

Modeled on a program in Baltimore, Maryland, I will create a comprehensive fresh, healthy foods program to make sure that all Pittsburghers have access to the food that their families need. There are a couple of ways we can do this. First, we should start in our schools. Chef Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution program is on its way to Pittsburgh. I have been proud to be a part of some of the early planning efforts. Chef Oliver’s program works with schools to make healthy food options available to students. I am excited to continue to work to make sure that this program is a success and that we are educating our kids about healthy food choices from an early age.

In addition to the Food Revolution, we need to work to make sure we are providing business opportunities for small neighborhood food retailers. Through my Office of Small Business Services and through a partnership with the URA, I will create a Fresh Food Fund designed to offer low- or no-interest loans and grants to entrepreneurs who would like to open food markets in neighborhoods designated as food deserts. The retailers would have to commit to having a robust stock of fresh, healthy fruits and produce in order to participate in the program.

Finally, in areas without business districts or areas where there is not yet enough interest in opening a brick and mortar market, I would like to work with our food truck community, our local farmers, and our food banks and pantries to experiment with a mobile produce delivery service. Chicago pioneered this idea back in 2001 and expanded it in 2005. The idea is to create a “farmers market on wheels” that could travel around the city and offer free or low-cost fresh produce to people in communities that lack fresh food options.

We have so many great fresh food resources in Pittsburgh. We just need to do a better job of connecting them to the communities that need them most.