Food-focused collaboration feeds Houston’s East End during COVID-19
Photo by Ceci Norman (Instagram: @cecinorman) / Courtesy of Finca Tres Robles
The public health crisis caused by COVID-19 has driven food insecurity to unprecedented levels in Houston’s East End, exacerbated by the fact that a significant percentage of the area’s large Hispanic population lives below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level. Now, a new collaboration between El Centro de Corazón, a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in the East End, and Finca Tres Robles, the East End’s first and only urban farm, aims to mitigate the impact of coronavirus-related food insecurity among the neighborhood’s vulnerable populations.
Funded by Port Houston through a $35,000 Community Grant, the Fresh Farm Produce Program aims to decrease food insecurity in the area using a multi-faceted, community-centered approach. The program is set to launch in February 2021, beginning with 15 El Centro patient families screened for food insecurity or diet-related disease through the health center’s Nutrición con Corazón initiative. The program plans to enroll 60 families by the completion of the program.
“One of Port Houston’s key focuses is to add value in the communities where we operate and strengthen the region we serve. The economic well-being, the health of our communities, and the quality of life of our region are all of vital importance to Port Houston,” said Garret Berg, Community Relations and Events Manager for Port Houston.
The foundation of the Fresh Farm Produce Program is the distribution of bags of Finca Tres Robles produce. Every week for the duration of the program, participants will receive a bag consisting of 6-8 different freshly harvested organic, seasonal vegetables. Participants will also receive recipes using the produce, a seasonal cookbook, and opportunities to take educational field trips to Finca Tres Robles to use agriculture and community to positively change their relationship with their food.
Finca Tres Robles, located at 257 North Greenwood Street, is a farm that is a project of Small Places, Inc., whose mission is to develop a culture of health in the East End community through the model of community impact agriculture. Finca Tres Robles was designed to provide essential services addressing the social determinants of health as a form of critical health infrastructure necessary to support a healthy East End.
“It’s exciting to be collaborating with another boots-on-the-ground organization like El Centro de Corazón to create this unique and innovative pilot program. We’re proud to be a part of the Farm Fresh Produce Program to connect more East End families with our farm and support all the essential health services El Centro provides to impact the day to day lives of our neighbors,” said Tommy Garcia-Prats, Finca Tres Robles co-founder and General Manager. “This is a program by the East End, for the East End. We can’t wait to watch it grow.”
To further empower participants to increase their consumption of fresh foods and build lasting behavioral change, Fresh Farm Produce Program participants will attend virtual visits with El Centro’s registered dietitian. During these sessions, they will discuss their health and set healthy eating goals. Other El Centro services, such as behavioral health services and counseling, are available to participants for support throughout the program.
“This is a program by the East End, for the East End.”
The final component of the Fresh Farm Produce Program is promoting family-focused community gardening activities. Participants can engage with El Centro’s Growing Roots East End Collaborative (GREEN), which equips community and student leaders with resources to build and maintain their community gardens, and brings together a network of 8 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, 2 high schools, and 3 community gardens in the East End. Additionally, there will be several opportunities to help support and revive school gardens throughout the program, many of which have been untended during COVID-19 physical distancing precautions.
As Garcia-Prats noted, this is a unique collaboration because it was created for, created by, and powered by organizations with deep roots in Houston’s East End. By ensuring that those in need get quality, nutritious food while also receiving support that builds lasting healthy behavioral habits, the Fresh Farm Produce Program will set participants up for a health-focused, resilient future.
About El Centro de Corazón
Founded in 1994, El Centro de Corazón (El Centro) is an accomplished Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) with four health center locations in Houston’s East End and offers a comprehensive range of adult and pediatric health care services for the underserved, uninsured, and underinsured, which includes primary care and family medicine, women’s health, dental, and behavioral health services. El Centro also provides ancillary services to assist patients to overcome barriers to accessing health care. In 2019, El Centro provided direct patient care to 12,978 low-income children and adults for a total of 46,595 patient visits.
For more information, visit www.elcentrodecorazon.org