Council Update: Fort Worth continues push to be healthier city


The mission to become a healthier city continues, as noted in Tuesday’s work session of the Fort Worth City Council as they received a briefing on the city’s healthy food policy.

In eight years Fort Worth has moved up from 185th to the 31st most healthy city in the nation since the implementation of the Blue Zones Project, according to the Gallup National Health and Well Being Index.

“We’ve been on quite a journey over the last several years to get to where we are,” Mayor’s Chief of Staff Mattie Parker said, calling the briefing “a happy topic.”

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Among adjustments to the policy is relaxing some regulations on farmers markets. These include:

*Eliminating the fee of $285 for farmers market licensing and making licensing free. The current ordinance gives the code compliance department the right to waive the fees, and the policy is expected to be formalized at an upcoming council meeting.

*Added flexibility to provide temporary restroom facilities, such as portable toliets with hand wash stations.

*Senate Bill 932 and House Bill 1694 that pertain to the limit on food stand permitting fees is already honored in Fort Worth and is capped at $100, which is just for inspection.

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Urban Agriculture Ordinance changes designed to enhance the selling of healthy food include:

*Removing barriers for establishing urban farms, aquaponics, and sales of produce grown in all zoning districts. This will hopefully increase the number of urban farms and produce stands in neighborhoods, residents selling their harvested fruits and vegetables.

Healthy food retail initiatives include:

*Healthy food stores, highlighting what folks can buy in their neighborhood, transforming stores.

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*SNAP (Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program) incentives at farmers markets.

*Pop-up markets.

*Produce Cart Pilot, Diamond Hill Jarvis Youth Association.

*Healthy Food Financing Initiative.

*Garden on the Go.

*Farmacy Vouchers.

Fort Worth Healthy Food Financing (FWHFFI) is a partnership with PeopleFund, Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI). The goal is to provide low-interest rate loans to support grocery development in specific areas of Fort Worth:

*Those with inadequate access to affordable healthy food options.

*51% of the households have low-moderate incomes.

How it works:

*The City of Fort Worth provided $50,000 in Urban Development Action Grant fund revenues – used to buy down the interest rate on loans by 2.5%, effectively reducing the amount of interest a borrower will pay over the life of the loan.

*PeopleFund has committed $500,000 in loan funds to the FWHFFI to be disbursed over the next two years.

*PeopleFund will operate the FWHFFI by working with city staff and council members to identify potential borrowers, assist borrowers throughout the life of the loan, and provide technical assistance to prospective applicants and borrowers.

Current status:

*PeopleFund is working with Blue Zones to create and distribute marketing/promotional materials.

*The city and PeopleFund are finalizing the marketing plan.

*PeopleFund made contact with district directors whose districts include food deserts in eligible areas (Districts 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 9).

*PeopleFund will begin actively promoting the program and accepting applications in mid-September.

The city and PeopleFund are working with small businesses to make sure they have more financing to create healthy alternatives.

Educating people about the positives of healthy food alternatives is also key. Currently, these include:

*Tarrant County Public Health – Live a More Colorful Life Campaign, Chronic Disease prevention classes.

*Blue Zones Project – Cooking demonstrations, virtual food stores education experience (including convenience stores, food stores, and food retailers), Lunchbox Toolbox (parent-student nutrition education tools).

*Tarrant Area Food Bank – Cooking Matters (cooking-based nutrition program), grocery store tours, community garden program, Community Kitchen (provides free culinary job training.

The Blue Zones Project has a Food Recovery Pilot program. This is recovering perishable items that would otherwise go to waste, such as items from a grocery store.

“We do have to be on our toes and be flexible, but if we’re really going to answer the questions and issues that are facing a lot of residents, especially children, we’re going to have to think differently,” Parker said.

Officials are looking at examples of healthy grocery stores in other cities, including:

*The Jubilee Food Market in Waco opened in fall 2016 as a nonprofit grocery store created by Mission Waco to serve the lower-income citizens in a food desert in the northern part of the city. The mission is to provide Christian-based, holistic, relationship-based programs that empower the poor and marginalized, mobilize middle-class Americans to become more compassionately involved among the poor, and seek ways to overcome the systemic issues of social injustice which oppress the poor and marginalized.

*In Baltimore, the Salvation Army’s DMG Foods is a nonprofit grocery store in the northeast section of the city designed to provide healthy and affordable food for all members of the community. DMG Foods is the first grocery store in the nation to combine social service with a traditional grocery shopping experience. Their social services include nutritional guidance, shopping education, workforce development, and meal planning.

In the South Oak Cliff section of Dallas, plans were recently announced for a nonprofit grocery store founded by two non-profit organizations, CitySquare and For Oak Cliff. Organizers said they are planning to open the store in the Glendale Shopping Center in Oak Cliff, in a space next to a Family Dollar that was formerly occupied by a thrift shop.

District 8 Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray suggested starting a pilot program with some of the dollar stores throughout the city. Officials are looking into regulating them, a topic that was discussed last week.

“I love the grocery store idea, but we have so many dollar stores in our area, and it’s a chance to start somewhere,” she said.

Parker responded with saying she had spoken to an official from Dollar General who called her back on the subject and appeared open to the idea. She said the company is already going to pilot their Healthy Food Work in other cities.

“I think there is some promise there, and I said, ‘Hint, hint, Fort Worth wants to work with you,” she said.

Mayor Betsy Price added, “We’ve made huge gains and we can’t take our foot off the pedal. And now that we’ve got it on people’s minds, we have to figure out innovative ways to get them to adopt it.”