Officials at the state-run agency that typically focuses on property acquisition and corporate assistance are also considering healthy food options as an economic tool.
Staff at USA Niagara Development Corp. are in the preliminary stages of exploring an incentivized food purchasing policy with an aim to encourage large institutions and businesses to provide nutritious offerings bought from local providers.
Rob Sozanski, an associate planner and project manager with the USAN, has briefed the Niagara Falls City Council on the policy idea as part of an action plan developed by a mayoral task force. The plan was endorsed by lawmakers in December.
“We have a really robust agricultural landscape in Niagara County,” he said.
The policy idea is an outgrowth of Mayor Paul Dyster’s Healthy Food, Healthy People Task Force, which covered multiple local stakeholders to contemplate solutions to various food-related issues. Laura Magee, a spokesperson for USAN, said similar policies have been successful elsewhere in the country.
“By increasing procurement/purchasing from Western New York farmers and producers, these institutions and businesses may be able to generate positive economic and workforce impacts while providing fresh, high-quality food to local customers, students and patients,” she said.
Tom Lowe, the director of Niagara University’s ReNU Niagara program, described the larger food action plan as a “guiding document.” It enacts no official measures and will require the work of others to implement its ideas.
According to the document, among the most pressing issues – and one that has been talked about in the city for sometime – is the existence of a “food desert” in the the Falls’s North End. The term refers to a general lack of access to fresh food within walking distance of a given community.
Alex Wright, a leader with the African Heritage Food Co-op, was involved with the plan and sees his organization as a way to address the lack of access.
But Wright prefers to call it by another name, “food apartheid,” due to what he told the Niagara Gazette earlier this year was the purposeful divestment of resources in black and brown communities across the country.
The absence of healthy food options helps generate “higher rates of diabetes, hypertension (and) high blood pressure” in minority communities, Wright said.
“It will solve the problem of people having to travel 30 to 45 minutes to get fresh fruits and vegetables,” he said.
Wright said the group made its first hire late last year in what he expects will be a group of 35 local employees in the next two years.
Link to the original article: https://www.niagara-gazette.com/news/local_news/dealing-with-a-food-desert/article_ac5caff3-01da-523f-829a-95ef223f6499.html