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Name: Caroline Harries
Title: Associate Director, National Campaign for Healthy Food Access
Organization: The Food Trust
is increasing the availability of healthy food in underserved areas through retail environments such as supermarkets, healthy corner stores, and farmers marketsby providing information on how to choose a healthy diet through the National Campaign for Healthy Food Access at The Food Trust. Keep reading to hear more about her work in healthy food access and click the link above to check out her PreventObesity.net profile.
What inspired you to start working on childhood obesity?
I’m an urban planner with a focus on community and economic development. One of my first jobs in this field was in a neighborhood that had very limited access to healthy foods. On my lunch break I would walk to the corner store, and it was difficult to find anything healthy to eat. In fact, it was easier to find a grape soda than it was to find an actual bunch of grapes. The nearest full-service grocery store was far from walking distance, and the implications of living in an environment where healthy choices are hard to come by were obvious. During this time, I attended a presentation on Healthy Corner Stores given by The Food Trust at a conference on sustainable communities. The agency’s mission to improve access to affordable nutritious foods made so much sense to me, and I was inspired by the fact that the organization was having a real impact in communities in a variety of ways: partnering with residents, business owners and community leaders on a comprehensive approach to the issue that includes increasing access to healthy foods and nutrition education. Now that I’m a mom of two young children, The Food Trust’s focus on healthy food access for children and families especially resonates with me.
How are you helping to reverse childhood obesity?
Our comprehensive approach to the issue, which includes increasing the availability of healthy food in underserved areas through retail environments such as supermarkets, healthy corner stores and farmers markets, and by providing information on how to choose a healthy diet, is having an impact. A recent study by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health showed that obesity rates among Philadelphia school children – where The Food Trust is headquartered and where most of our programs started – actually went down between 2006 and 2010. This reinforces our combined effort to make the healthy choice the easy choice, while also providing nutrition education.
What’s your biggest accomplishment so far in helping reduce childhood obesity?
I helped implement the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, the first grocery financing program for underserved communities in the country. In partnership with a Philadelphia-based community development financial institution, The Reinvestment Fund, we helped the program approve 88 healthy food retail projects for funding across the state, in both rural and urban areas, representing over 5,000 jobs created or retained and 400,000 residents with increased access to healthy food. This program has since become a model for supporting grocery store and other healthy food retail in underserved areas across the country.
Who is your role model in your work?
Michelle Obama has elevated the issue of access to healthy food nationally in a way that has helped effect a sea of change across the country. When I was first hired by The Food Trust, close to a decade ago, this issue just wasn’t on the radar screen of policymakers and community leaders in the way it is now. That’s in part due to the hard work of food groups around the country, including The Food Trust, but the first lady’s commitment to this issue has been a critical catalyst.
What healthy snacks did you enjoy growing up?
One of my favorite memories of food growing up is picking blackberries on my grandparents’ farm in Pennsylvania with my family. I would pop a few as a snack, and then later we would make blackberry cobbler – which was fresh and homemade and nourishing on so many levels.
Each week, our own Amy Stone speaks with a Leader to get a quick look at why he or she loves working to create healthy environments for kids. Want to take part? Visit Amy’s profile and contact her.