Oceana R Gilliam – Policy and Community Liaison

According to the LA Food Policy Council, Los Angeles County is home to the largest population of food insecure people in the United States.  Almost 30% of low-income households in the County are food insecure, which means these households struggle to purchase nutritious foods, like vegetables, lean meats, fruits, and food rich in fiber. Food insecurity disproportionately impacts low-income communities of color. Among low-income households in LA County’s Service Planning Area 6, which encompasses South LA and Compton communities, about 32% or 71,000 households are food insecure, and about 13% or 28,000 households are very food insecure. Concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic would further exacerbate food insecurity in South LA and Compton, First 5 LA Region 2 Best Start Communities (Broadway / Manchester, Compton /East Compton, Watts/Willowbrook, and West Athens), Community Health Councils (CHC) and Sustainable Economic Enterprises of LA (SEE-LA) entered a partnership to establish the Region 2 Best Start Farm Box Grab and Go to distribute over 17,000 farm boxes to residents.

Region 2 Best Start strives to collaborate with key stakeholders and community leaders to improve the lives of children and strengthen communities within South Los Angeles and Compton. Since 2018, CHC, a South LA based health policy and systems change organization, has served as the Region 2 backbone to support resident leaders with creating a strong and sustainable eco-system that fosters community health and well-being. SEE-LA works to build sustainable food systems and promotes social and cultural activities that benefit both low-to-moderate income residents of Los Angeles while also supporting California small- and mid-sized farms and local small businesses.

The 10-week Farm Box Grab and Go program, which started May 29th and sunsets in July 3rd, was 100% community led. Dozens of volunteers and community-based organizations across the region joined to safely distribute thousands of farm boxes– which provided a week’s worth of fresh, locally grown produce and eggs for a family of four.  While initially each site was set to distribute 250 boxes weekly, the demand quickly grew, and by week 4, combined, the four sites began distributing a weekly total of 1,900 boxes. In each community, a distribution hub was identified with additional nonprofit partners providing delivery for households unable to come to one of the four sites. Families also received masks, cookbooks, children’s books, and other essential resources.

The Farm Box Grab and Go was more than just a benefit to residents. Local farmers that lost business due to the pandemic found a new source a revenue through the Grab and Go program. Instead of destroying or wasting crops, farmers found themselves hiring new people to meet the increased demand for their products.

The Region 2 Best Start Farm Box Grab and Go is an example of how activating a nurtured network can connect families with critical food and other resources to help them thrive in a moment of crisis. In the face of a pandemic, residents exhibited the collective will and power to ensure that hundreds of families across the region were fed. The program leveraged the efforts of local community-based organizations, churches, and community groups and created an opportunity for these entities to connect with a broader group of residents and stakeholders.  Furthermore, it provided an opportunity to spread awareness and information about healthy nutrition to the general community.

However, even though the Farm Box Grab and Go was successful, it was only a temporary solution in a time of heightened need. Food insecurity in communities like South LA and Compton is a symptom of food swamps, food deserts, economic depression, and other harmful conditions caused by deeply rooted structural and environmental racism. To effectively address food insecurity, we need a comprehensive systems approach that includes:

  • Economic incentives to support healthy food businesses in South LA and Compton, like the Good Food Zone Policy
  • Increased funding for building and maintaining community gardens and other urban growing innovations
  • Community led efforts focused on increased enrollment in CalFresh/SNAP Benefits for eligible households
  • Healthy Neighborhood Market conversions to ensure that local markets have the technical and infrastructure needed to supply fresh food

These are just a few examples within the plethora of strategies that can quell food insecurity, some of which have been outlined in both the LA County and City sustainability plans. CHC will continue to work with the Region 2 Best Start and other stakeholders to ensure that City and County are held accountable for the outcomes of initiatives outlined in those plans. Most importantly will be the need to identify additional strategies needed to eradicate food insecurity that incorporate the necessary resources to accomplish.

Region 2 Best Start is committed to working with community partners to accelerate real change in South LA and Compton communities for the increased wellbeing of children and families. To get involved and learn more about the work of the Region 2 Best Start Communities, please visit https://www.beststartcommunities.com/