Promoting Health Equity in Texas for National Nutrition Month

Harris County Precinct One Teams Up with The Common Market to Boost Access to Healthy Foods for its Neighbors

March 14, 2024

It is National Nutrition Month®-an annual campaign during the month of March where communities everywhere are encouraged to learn about making informed food choices and develop healthful eating and physical activity habits. We see our partners honor this month in various ways, including running wellness farm stands and featuring new, local, healthy menu items.

This March, The Common Market is excited to join forces with the State of Texas’ Harris County Precinct One to celebrate and reflect on the importance of ensuring healthy food options are accessible to everyone.

Presently, three community-centered sites managed by Precinct One receive bi-weekly deliveries of our Farm-Fresh Boxes. Each month, 800+ boxes are distributed among neighbors in need, each containing a dose of good health: 6-8 high-quality, nutritious seasonal items and sometimes grains, sourced from Texas farmers and producers. ·The distributions all take place after scheduled programs and activities to ensure participation. For seniors, they occur after a well-attended recreation class; the youth boxes are distributed to families as they pick up their children from the after-school program.

We recently sat down with Natalie Minas, Kristen Johnson, and Monica De La Rosa from the Office of Harris County Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis to dig into how they are taking steps to expand good health outcomes among its residents this National Nutrition Month and all year long.

The Common Market: To get us started, can you share some more details about Precinct One's partnership with The Common Market Texas?

Precinct One: Precinct One partners with The Common Market Texas to help achieve our shared goal of getting healthy, affordable food to all residents. This has been a positive partnership targeted to participants in health and fitness programs offered at centers that serve seniors and families with children in the household. Approximately 420 boxes are distributed with an average of at least three people per household impacted. (Note, this is based on an average number of people in household).

What are some of the Precinct's goals as relates to community health and nutrition?

Precinct One believes in health equity, meaning that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. Living a healthy lifestyle takes time, effort, and resources, but when options for healthy eating are limited, it can be even more difficult. Precinct One’s goal is to bring more healthy food options directly to residents through initiatives with community partners, like The Common Market, and County partners, like Harris County Public Health, that meet community members where they are.

What does National Nutrition Month® mean to Precinct One? How does it see its relationship with The Common Market as one that aligns with this special month?

Nutritious foods should be an easily accessible option for everyone. Food deserts, or areas with a lack of grocery stores within walking distance, are a chronic problem in Precinct One, especially in low-income areas and communities of color. Often, farmers markets are one of the only alternatives for local fresh fruits and vegetables without having to drive to supermarkets in other neighborhoods.

By partnering with The Common Market, we’re bringing the farmers market produce directly to our residents and can provide them access to nutritious foods.

What can community leaders do to combat these statistics that represent reality for many of our Texas neighbors:

9 in 10 American adults do not eat the recommended quantity of produce daily.

As of 2021, half of American children do not eat a daily serving of vegetables in a week. In a paper published in 2021 in JAMA, researchers found that nearly 70% of children’s calories now come from ultra-processed foods, up from 61% in 1999.

This dietary pattern has led to more than half of American adults suffering from one or more diet-related diseases.

Access to nutritious foods is key to healthy eating, which is important for mental and physical health. Lack of access to nutritious foods is often the result of social conditions like poverty, unemployment, disability status, and homelessness that leave individuals without adequate resources to put healthy food on their table. Community leaders can help our Texas neighbors by removing barriers to good health. Removing barriers to good health means making data-driven decisions about who is furthest from health equity, and intentionally directing resources to people that need it the most.

Education is pretty critical to ensure healthy eating gets adopted as a habit. The food in the Farm-Fresh Boxes is seasonal and represents what is available from our Texas farms at that present moment. Sometimes, it might include items that are unfamiliar to people, or may simply be an item they have never incorporated into their home cooking before. Can you lift up a great recipe inspired by our seasonal Texas-sourced ingredients?

We love this simple Beet Orange Salad Recipe. (Thank you Food Network!)

Yield: 4 servings

Boil 1 pound beets in salted water until tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Drain, then peel and slice into wedges. Toss in a serving bowl with 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, 2 tablespoons chopped chives or scallions, and salt and pepper. Add 1 bunch arugula and 2 segmented blood oranges and toss.

Do you have any other advice to share with our communities or area institutions looking to honor National Nutrition Month® this March?

Take advantage of Double Up Food Bucks at our local farmers markets. Double Up Food Bucks matches SNAP dollar for dollar at participating farmers’ markets and food stands across Texas. This doubles SNAP shoppers’ purchasing power for fresh fruits and vegetables and supports Houston-area growers – a win-win!

Is there anything else Precinct One wishes to address as relates to healthy food access?

For children and families who rely on school-provided meals during the academic year, summer is a time of heightened need. Many families count on school meals as a regular source of nutrition for their children, and without additional assistance during the summer months, they can struggle to keep food on the table. Partnerships providing food, like the one we have with The Common Market, are even more critical during the summer months to addressing child hunger in Precinct One.