Businesses affiliated with the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, including Terre Foods, have targeted improving the health of people in our community as a top priority for the coming year. Its Better Health Wabash Valley (BHWV) initiative has undertaken a community health needs assessment and is developing a plan to improve health by specifically targeting obesity, tobacco use, and health disease. Terre Foods is an active participant in BHWV. I was asked by its chair, Ken Baker of AET, to share the Terre Foods perspective on this issue. Here is my response. Your feedback is most welcome!
“Terre Foods Cooperative Market (TFCM) is a member-owned cooperative grocery store devoted to natural products grown and produced locally and organically whenever possible. Our member owners have invested dollars and time to help get the store open. Why? They all believe in the value of advancing the availability of quality local food for their own health and for the economic health of their communities. In order for TFCM to be successful, we must grow the supply of local foods and products and we must grow the population of people who share a belief in the value of quality local food.
The absence of quality local foods, I believe, is a significant factor driving obesity in our communities. The sad fact is that we are able to grow an abundance of food, nearly everything we need, in our part of the world yet more than 90% of the food we eat comes from more than 400 miles away. Our local farm land is primarily devoted to monoculture, industrial farming (corn and soybeans and large scale livestock production). Science is beginning to show the ill effects of too much corn additives such as high fructose corn syrup and the impact of antibiotic and growth hormone usage in livestock on our high incidence of obesity and diabetes. Convenience foods containing these food products are ubiquitous in the diets of most Americans and especially our children. Meanwhile, healthy fresh fruits and vegetables have grown too expensive for many families to purchase.
At the same time and not incidentally, we have an entire generation (maybe two) who have grown up without the skills to prepare food from scratch. I’ve spoken with leaders at the Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank who tell me that whole foods such as fresh vegetables are often the last items selected from food pantry shelves, selected only when the pre-packaged convenience items have been taken. While there are many barriers to preparing whole foods (time, tools, confidence), the simple skills necessary to prepare food are often a main reason for not making better choices. In many of our poorer rural and inner city neighborhoods, the lack of a grocery store within walking distance means that food is purchased from a convenience or Dollar store which rarely have fresh fruits, vegetables and proteins. Dinner is often a Hostess pie or a bag of chips.
So how does TFCM fit in? Right now, our primary focus is obtaining the number of member owners required to attract the financing necessary to open the store. Our plan, if implemented well, has us opening that store in 2014. Once we’ve achieved that goal, a significant marketing strategy for the success of the store is the promotion of the value of whole foods. Coops across the country have been very successful at holding cooking classes to teach basic skills. As a matter of fact, TFMC is likely to partner this year with the White Violet Center to conduct a series of basic cooking classes. I would anticipate this activity to increase as the store opens. Further, our members represent an army of people devoted to good health through natural and local foods and products. We could certainly enlist their help in undertaking community initiatives that would promote good health through whole foods.
Growing the number and quality of local growers and producers is vital to the success of TFCM and to the ability of our local school systems and social service agencies to serve better, more wholesome foods. Giving these growers a store front for the sale of their goods helps achieve that imperative.
Finally, better health habits are often peer driven and contagious. When I first moved to back to town in 1992, I received odd looks and catcalls when I would run through our city parks. Now there are dozens who join me. The founders of TFCM are college professors transplanted to Terre Haute after having lived in towns with food coops. This is a recruitment and retention issue for many of the talented people we’d like to recruit to come live here and for those who have chosen to come that we’d like to keep. Having a healthy food coop that drives a healthy local food economy is the sign of a progressive community. More and more it’s tough to attract healthy, active folks without these amenities in place. So we are left with recruiting a workforce less concerned about healthy eating than the growing number of us who are very concerned about healthy eating. When we change that ratio we will turn a significant corner.
In addition to TFCM, other organizations such as Our Green Valley Alliance for Sustainability, the ISU Institute for Community Sustainability, the Wabash Valley Food Hub and others are strong advocates for the local foods movement. We are a greatly intertwined group of organizations that can use its mass to help promote and impact change.”