the nutrition problem: Obesity
Obesity contributes to 1 in 5 deaths in the United States, and the problem starts in childhood. Child obesity causes many health problems that used to only be seen in adults, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. These health problems lead to early death and disability in adulthood. Obese children are also more prone to low self-esteem, bullying, negative body image, and depression.
One-third of children in the United States are overweight and obese, and the numbers are even higher in low-income populations. In North Long Beach, over 50% of 5th grade children are obese or overweight. The causes of obesity are complex, but much can be traced back to a lack of fruits and vegetables in the diet.
PARTNER & PROJECT LOCATION
The Growing Experience (TGE) is a beautiful 7-acre urban farm operated by the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles. It is located within the the grounds of the Carmelitos Housing Development, which provides subsidized housing for low-income residents of North Long Beach. The farm practices sustainable farming methods, and their mission is to provide affordable, fresh, locally grown, organic produce to the community.
TGE's goal is to produce organic produce in the community, for the community at an affordable price. Despite spending nearly twenty years to build an amazing farm, community acceptance was low in 2015. TGE offered large boxes filled with healthy fruits and vegetables at a low price, but few residents purchased. Nearly all produce left the community to go to upscale restaurants and middle/upper-income households. To achieve its mission, the farm needed a way to connect with residents within the Carmelitos community.
Applying our approach
We started by talking to Carmelitos residents in a focus group. We learned that they had mistakenly thought the farm was for "outsiders." Furthermore, they couldn't pay with food stamps, and they were unfamiliar with much of the produce being offered. We also learned about food they did buy and serve their children, and their reasons why.
Working closely with TGE's team, we changed the name of the CSA box to "The Carmelitos Veggie Box." We knew mothers cared about filling bellies and food waste could not be tolerated, so we changed the contents of the Veggie Box to offer more familiar items. Then we designed eye-catching promo posters to launch a residents-only event and enlisted a DJ and cooks from the community.
The original sales pitch of "local, organic, and sustainable produce" simply was not resonating. With our findings, we designed a marketing strategy to address barriers and play to motivators. We needed to adjust the product, change perception of the farm, and appeal to a sense of fun and community pride rather.
To re-introduce TGE to the Carmelitos community, we held the first annual Carmelitos Cookoff in 2015, a cooking contest featuring contestants from Carmelitos and fresh vegetables from TGE's farm. Residents got a chance have fun, sample TGE's vegetables in a positive environment, and sign up for Veggie Box subscriptions.
what we've achieved together
The cooking contest has transformed the relationship between residents and the farm. The cook-off has now become an annual event looked forward to by residents who, for nearly twenty years, paid little attention to the farm. Residents now know the farm exists, and that it exists to serve them. This relationship serves as the foundation for progress, giving residents a chance to engage, volunteer, and most importantly, begin purchasing healthy produce for their children. Now, in 2017, TGE is using marketing to significantly increase weekly farm-stand sales of fruits and vegetables to families with young children.