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EP44 Building a Path to a Food Secure Future with City Harvest
Alexandra Arriaga: Hi and welcome to another episode of I Am GPH. My name is Alexandra Arriaga, and today we will learn more about City Harvest, which is New York City's largest food rescue organization. Our guest is Trina Barham who is the Director of Food Access and she will tell us about how City Harvest is building a path to a food secure future for all New Yorkers. We are particularly excited about this episode because all of us here at the College of Global Public Health are partnering up with City Harvest. GPH has launched the new Change the Imbalance Initiative to encourage students, faculty, and staff to build upon research and advocacy by engaging directly with our community through volunteering time or donations. Our college will be supplementing major events with opportunities to give back, learn, and raise awareness of various public health issues. For the initiative’s premiere event, GPH, like I mentioned, we'll be partnering with City Harvest to build and distribute snack-packs filled with nutritious goodies to children throughout New York city. This event will not only serve to feed those in need, but also raise awareness about the continuous presence of food insecurity in our city. So if you would like to learn more about the mission behind City Harvest, please keep listening and visit their website cityharvest.org. Hi Trina, how are you doing today?
Trina Barham: I'm doing good.
Alexandra Arriaga: Thank you for coming and joining us.
Trina Barham: Thanks for having me.
Alexandra Arriaga: Of course. So could you please tell us about City Harvest and what you do?
Trina Barham: Yeah. So City Harvest is a food rescue organization and essentially we rescue food across the city from various locations and we redistribute that food to local food pantries, soup kitchens and places like that across the five boroughs. And in addition to the food rescue component, which is usually when people see our trucks on the road, that's usually what they know about City Harvest, the other side of the organization where I work is the program side. And so essentially what we do, we do a lot of work in the communities around nutrition education. We do a lot of work in the retail space, essentially creating, helping stores create healthier environments for people to purchase foods in the community and we also do a lot of community engagement. And so the community engagement really engages local leaders and elected officials around food access and food justice issues.
Alexandra Arriaga: So when you say food rescuing, rescuing food, can you give me an example?
Trina Barham: So for example, we might go to Pret a Manger or something like that and they will have certain items that they donate to us. And so we rescue those items that they might have leftover or whatever it is, and then we redistribute it to organizations depending on what they can take, how much they can take. Some organizations can take different kinds of items, some things basically we could pick it up and deliver it right away depending on what the item is. So that's an example of the kinds of food that we might rescue.
Alexandra Arriaga: Awesome. And personally, what drew you to work with City Harvest?
Trina Barham: So my background, I worked in the public sector for a long time and I really wanted to take a lot of the skills that I learned to the nonprofit space. And so, working for the city, there's a lot of things that you learn about how government works, how programs and contracts work on that end. I wasn't working in the food space prior to coming to City Harvest. I really wanted to, to get back into the nonprofit world, and again, like I said, just take those skills that I had and use them someplace that I thought had a really good mission.
Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah, that sounds great. We all know that many people come to New York because they're maybe looking for new opportunities and such. But like in any other metropolitan city, we see inequalities around us every single day. Can you tell us more about accessing affordable, nutritious food in New York? And do you think this is a public health issue?
Trina Barham: It's certainly a public health issue and I think the biggest challenge comes around inequality and inequity when it comes to accessing healthy and nutritious food. And so that really speaks to a lot of New Yorkers essentially don't have the financial resources to be able to buy the kinds of foods that they need, which is where an organization like City Harvest can come and can step in, and to really help some of that. But again, it doesn't account for the fact that people still aren't, earning the kind of money that they need to earn to really take care of themselves and their families. The other issue is around inequity. And that really has to do within a lot of neighborhoods that we service and a lot of neighborhoods where there's a lot of poor people. They don't have healthy quality, nutritious food that's affordable. And so because of that, that leads to all sorts of things, there's a lot of food deserts around and things like that, where in a city as rich as New York, you would think that that wouldn't be the case, that people wouldn't be hungry. But that in fact people really are going day to day without eating. And so there's always a need for more services and places like City Harvest to really step in. And so I think it's one of those things that as the wealth gap grows, the need increases. And so it's one of those things where a city, again, a city like New York, we really have to figure out how do we best serve our citizens? How do we take care of people who don't have as much as someone else? And for families to go hungry, for kids to go hungry, it's really inexcusable for a city and a country as wealthy as ours. So it's one of those things that can affect and impact so many things from how you learn and how you think and how you feel, not having access to good, healthy food that you can depend on, can be very strenuous. On top of it, in my opinion, it's just not right. So it's something that really does require daily attention from everyone.
Alexandra Arriaga: Do you have, from the top of your head, any idea of what the number of people that are hungry in the city is or an approximate?
Trina Barham: So there are 1.2 million New Yorkers who are struggling to put food on the table every day.
Alexandra Arriaga: That's a lot of people.
Trina Barham: It's a lot of people. That's what, one eighth of the city's population. That's a lot of people. And there's, adults, there's children, they're seniors. There's a lot of people that fall into that category. And I also think that a lot of the people that we've seen lately, particularly with the latest government shutdown is that there are people who are either working poor or people who are living paycheck to paycheck who are also finding themselves not being able to put food on the table. So that's another population that we're seeing as well.
Alexandra Arriaga: That's extremely sad. But I'm glad that an organization like City Harvest is doing something about it and putting efforts together to help solve this awful, awful trend that we see where people just go hungry. So additionally, are there any myths or misunderstandings around food access and public health? Is there anything you think our listeners should know?
Trina Barham: I don't know about myths, but I think something that might be a misunderstanding is the lack of awareness around the linkage and the connection with mental health and really stress. And it's something that I've been talking a lot more about because I think when we think about food and people who are going hungry or just struggle to bring food into the home, we think that the issue is solely just that, not realizing the impact that it has on a person's psyche or their ability to function day to day. And so I think we really need to be talking more about mental health for kids, for adults, and just the strain that it can put on a household and a family when you don't have enough resources to put food on the table. That is a very stressful thing to have to deal with. And again, and then the things that you end up buying as a parent or anyone really, you buy the things that are cheap, you buy the things that if you're someone that has SNAP benefits, at the beginning of the month, that's when all the circulars have sales in a lot of our communities and the things that are on sale are lots of juices and things that are high in sugar and fat and things like that, that can really affect the way you feel and all of that. And so my hope is that we can spend more time understanding those linkages and how it impacts the things that people do and the way they take care of themselves and their families.
Alexandra Arriaga: It seems like there is an issue where the affordable things are definitely not the most nutritious. And like systematically people that are in precarious situations just buy what they can.
Trina Barham: That's very true. So a big part of what City Harvest does is we get rescue produce. So we have something called, we have mobile markets throughout the city. And one of the things that happens in those mobile markets is that essentially, that's where people get fresh produce. So that's really a healthy option for people, and that's a large part of what we focus on, is delivering fresh produce to a lot of our agencies in soup kitchens and places like that. And on the program side of the organization where I work, a large part of what we do in our classes and courses is we teach people essentially how to make meals with healthier options that are affordable or how can they grocery shop within a budget. So we have a program where we do shopping tours in local supermarkets, and in those programs we essentially go through supermarkets with people where they're actually shopping and showing them, these are the things that you can not only buy, but these are the meals that you can prepare within a certain amount of money. And when we do those tours, we have something called a $10 challenge. And we essentially give everyone that's participating $10 to buy a certain amount of ingredients for a particular meal, just to show that it can be done. Doesn't mean it's not challenging. And so that's part of the education that we do.
Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah. I think that the education component is extremely important because then you're giving these people tools to actually improve their health and the nutrition choices that they make.
Trina Barham: Absolutely. And just knowing that it's something that you can do on your own. You don't always have to go for the things that aren't the best for you just because they're cheap. There are other affordable options that would allow you to still prepare a really good healthy meal for you and your family.
Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah. Can you give me an example of maybe something that you would encourage, like a recipe that you would encourage people?
Trina Barham: I think something really simple with a beans and rice recipe, that can actually be really healthy. You get a little avocado, you can have a side salad or something like that and some greens with it, and that can be a whole meal. I'd mix it up with some peppers and onions. You can get one of each of those and just mix it up, and it could be something really tasty that's cheap and that tastes really good. In some neighborhoods, produce can be cheaper depending on where you are. And so we really try to incorporate a lot of those things into the recipes that we encourage people to make.
Alexandra Arriaga: So when you and your team at City Harvest come up against barriers and challenges, what motivates you guys to keep going and put in the long hours of work?
Trina Barham: Well, I think one of the really great things about City Harvest is that we have a lot of people that work there. And I would say the majority of people that work there that either have a personal connection to food in some way and they're passionate about one way or the other, whether it's about rescuing food, whether it's just they're a foodie and they just love all things food, whatever it is. Most people at City Harvest feel that way and they're really passionate about the work that we do. And so I think that we have great teams that they want to go the extra mile every day to make sure that people have what they need and that we're really being a conduit for healthy and nutritious food and meals and helping to bridge that meal gap. And so with the long hours and with the stresses of just working with people that can be in crisis or really struggling, I think that's the thing that we keep in mind. There's a personal passion for the work and that ties into professional passion. And I think that's one of the things that drives people on a daily basis when things can get frustrating.
Alexandra Arriaga: And for our listeners that just heard our entire conversation and are thinking, well, maybe I want to get involved with City Harvest, how could they seek for employment opportunities with you? Or how do you think they could succeed at pursuing a career in this area of work?
Trina Barham: So I think one of the things that I would recommend is, so City or Harvest works with a lot of volunteers, and we are a volunteer-driven organization in a lot of ways, so I would encourage anyone to start volunteering with City Harvest, to get familiar with the organization. The other thing is we have interns, we have AmeriCorps staff that come and work with us so that they can get a taste for the way things work, the kind of work that we do. I think those are great entry points. Again, just so that you can get in the food space and see how it works and see how it runs before you make a commitment to really want to work with us. But I think that's a great place to start. And I think sort of what I was saying before about the work that we do and passion, if you're someone that really has a passion about food in some way or capacity, and you want to make a difference in that space and in that world, I think that's a really great place to start. And I think having innovative ideas, the world is changing and the need is increasing and we want to be smart about how we're meeting those needs as an organization. So if you're someone again, that's smart, that's savvy, that's flexible and that really has a passion for food in some way, I think you're well on your way to be a good fit for City Harvest. But again, I would encourage people to volunteer, to reach out for internships, to think about AmeriCorps, all those things. Those are good entry points.
Alexandra Arriaga: Okay guys, so there you have it. If you're interested in finding more information, you can go to the City Harvest website. It's just cityharvest.org. And you can find all sorts of great information there. Thank you so much Trina for joining us today. It's been a pleasure.
Trina Barham: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Alexandra Arriaga: Of course.