Food Deserts in Michigan: An Overlooked Problem

PRE-PROPOSAL 1. Media Artifact

Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:

Our Podcast: 

Hunger and Obesity in Michigan: An Overlooked Problem

 

2. Persona and POV statement Persona & POV statement: Our persona & POV statement: Jenna Stevens     3. Potential Solutions:

Describe three reasonable, feasible potential solutions or approaches that would help address this problem.

SOLUTION 1: Government subsidizes (with potential tax money) healthy meals to middle and high schools within certain areas.  These meals will have high nutrient and vitamin levels that would help kids who struggle with a lack of nutriens attain a healthy diet.  This will also alleviate pressure off the parents who are struggling to pay for healthymeals for their kids.

SOLUTION 2: Government offers tax burden for those who are willing to implements grocery stores within 1.5 miles of certain neighborhoods, allowing families with little transportation to still have availability of healthy foods and nutrient-rich foods.  This will alleviate the struggle of many families who live far away from grocery stores, and will give them more access to healthy foods, solving the hunger problem, while still offering healthy foods to alleviate things like obesity.

SOLUTION 3: Issue a proposal/government sponsored initiative to make healthy foods much cheaper so families can afford to purchase them.  This initiative will force grocery stores to offer a selection of foods at a discount, allowing families to buy fruits, vegetables, and other nutrient-rich foods to serve to their families.  This will improve the health of many families and have serious benefits to the youth that are still growing and learning every day. 

SOLUTION 4: 

BACKGROUND AND RESEARCH PROCESS Context

Reference to a current Michigan bill or law that relates in some way to your proposal:

Why this proposal will make a difference in the lives of students of all ages across Michigan, or a significant subgroup (by age, background, economic status, and/or region, etc.) of students in Michigan:

How and where did you learn about the issues underlying your proposal?

How has your service activity influenced your thinking about this proposal?

Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:

 

Consultations

Talk directly with at least 3 real live people who have special knowledge about this topic or the impact your proposal would have, and summarize their comments. These may include people appearing in your media artifact (video, podcast, etc.).

CONSULTATION 1: Our first consultant asked to remain anonymous. With that being said, s/he expressed the importance of children being at the highest risk of hunger, illustrating that at least 40% of the people Gleaners-a food distributing organizing that provides 96,200 meals each day to people in southeast Michigan- are children. In addition, s/he expressed that nearly one in five Michigan children live in poverty, with household incomes under $25,000 for a family of four. Given that, s/he expressed that since child hunger is such a serious problem in southeast Michigan, children do not have what they need to reach their fullest potential. Studies illustrate that children are not able to perform as well in school and are more prone to behavioral or physiological problems. Moreover, we discussed in the increasing ability to access fruits and veggies, which parallels to one our recommendations. The Healthy Pantry Initiative at Gleaners looks to implement changes that make food insecure families and seniors get greater access to fruits and vegetables which in turn will provide easier access to healthy produce, as well as education to maintain a nutritious lifestyle.

CONSULTATION 2: Our next consultant also wished to be remained unknown but is a member of the Forgotten Harvest Program which serves as metro Detroit’s only food rescue organization. To discuss some background, Forgotten Harvest has been dedicated to relieving hunger in metro Detroit and preventing nutritious food waste since our founding in 1990. Last year alone, they rescued the equivalent of over 41 million meals in surplus fresh food, from 800 donor sites including wholesale distributors, farmers, dairies, restaurants and 267 grocery stores. The food is delivered at no charge to 280 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and mobile pantries across metro Detroit. What I found most interesting from this discussion was that the Forgotten Harvest Program has a farm in Fenton, MI, which operates from spring to late fall. The farm was started as a way to increase the amount of nutritious food we provide to families, with produce such as kale, collards, squash, broccoli, navy beans, zucchini and corn. In last year’s growing season, the farm produced over 880,000 pounds of nutritious vegetables, with the support of 5 staff and about 2,000 volunteers, which, In the last fiscal year, 14,726 volunteers provided 77,412 hours of dedicated service to help us execute our mission.

CONSULTATION 3: Our last consultant wished to be remained unknown, but is a resident of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and is related Aaron. S/he discussed how hunger in Michigan, especially in children is leading to increased levels on obesity, which was helpful for the connection within our proposal. Roughly 15 percent of Michigan’s children are classified as obese, putting them on target to add to the obesity problem when they reach adulthood.  We learned that childhood obesity comes with its own set of problems including, children missing more days of school, have higher dropout rates, and are more likely to complete fewer total grades in school.  Obesity among children as young as two and three years old is associated with lower functioning in verbal, social, and motor skills. That being said, living in Ann Arbor I was informed that Washtenaw county has below average rates of obesity which would illustrate to me that in order to create a solution to our problem we need to focus on most inner-city areas, such as Saginaw county. I learned that starting from Geico, child care facilities in Michigan are not required to provide physical activity opportunities to children in their care and only some child care facilities are subject to nutrition rules.  When children enter school, they are required to receive health and physical education, but the content, frequency, and quality of these courses is not specified and therefore varies across the state. It isn’t until high school that state policymakers have set minimum time requirements for physical education, though the standards are below federal recommendations. That is when s/he brought up our first solution that suggested the government subsidizes healthy meals to middle and high schools within certain areas. S/he could did not know that much in regard to how much money the government can and does allocate towards these programs already, but suggested we look further into this to see if we could increase taxes to provide meals with high nutrient and vitamin levels that would help kids who struggle with a lack of nutrients attain a healthy diet.

Consultation 4: In ongoing communication via phone and email with congressman Dwight Evans' office.  Evans, a representative of the 3rd District of Pennsylvania, implemented a food desert solution program, Pennsylvania's Fresh Food Financing Initiative, where public and privare funds were linked in order to bring grocery stores to food deserts throughout Pennsylvania.  About 100 new grocery stores were brought to areas in Pennsylvania which lacked a grocery store nearby, allowing them access to purchase fresh and healthy foods that were not available before.  Similar initiatives have been made in other states, which we will continue to look into for future evidence of why this could work in Michigan, and what the options are for how to solve these food deserts.

Reaction or advice from a Topic Coordinator:

After talking to Jeff and Michael, we received several pieces of advice that helped shaped our proposal.  First, Jeff got us thinking about thinking outside the box.  When we initially began our proposal, we were set on the idea of solving just hunger, or just obesity.  After talking to Jeff, we realized that we needed to start thinking about both, as well as had to think of who it affected outside of who we thought was affected.  We then took this advice and did more research, finding that parents and children were far most affected by these things.  We went into speaking with Michael with a pretty good idea of what we wanted to do.  We thought that we could solve hunger and obesity by providing government-subsidied lunches to the kids.  After speaking with Michael, we realized that there were several flaws in our argument.  Two of the most important flaws were that the government would have to cut spending elsewhere to fund this and that there are a few months throughout the year without school, in which case the kids would not be receiving lunches.  This problem led us to our final and best idea for our proposal: solving food deserts.  After doing some research and seeing that other states have implemented successful programs in the past, we think that grocery stores should be offered tax benefits and other benefits when locating in certain areas in order to prevent food deserts and encourage stores to be built in those areas.  By doing this, we believe we can solve issues of hunger and a readily available grocery store will prove nutrient-rich foods that will help our youth and their parents stay healthy. 

Research process:

Our research process changed depending on what we thought our intended solution should be, but started as basic research regarding hunger and obesity in Michigan.  Using google searches and finding scholarly articles as well as asking our consultations about this issue helped us get a great grasp for what the problems were.  We were able to gather great information from our first three consultations which consisted of people either living in Michigan and witnessing the problem or people who work within organizations trying to fight hunger in Michigan.  These consultations allowed us to really grasp the major issues and forced us to brainstorm potential solutions for the issues.  As mentioned above, our solution idea of school lunches hit a dead end when we discovered that there are breaks within the school year and summer that would force many kids who rely on this lunch to go hungry, and thanks to our fourth consultation we were able to find what we believe to be the best solution to hunger and obesity in Michigan: reducing the amount of food deserts.  After communicating (we are still in talks) with congressman Dwight Evans' office, the congressman of Pennsylvania's and his team helped diminish many of Pennsylvania's food deserts.  Him and his team brought 100 new grocery stores to areas where food deserts previously existed, helping hunger and health in several areas.  With other successes similar in other states, we believe that by offering tax benefits and other potential benefits, Michigan can encourage grocery stores to be built in certain areas and help reduce the amount of food deserts existing.

Author contributions:

While it does sound cheesy, we both contributed equally to the drafting of this proposal.  We have tri-weekly meetings where we discuss what needs to get done and what the process of doing it should be. Together we conducted research and on our own time we would brainstorm and research some of our other ideas.  If one of us thought we had a good idea, it was that person's responsibility to conduct further research and the other person's responsibility to critique and play devil's advocate to make sure that our arguments were strong.  For example, Jack was responsible for researching the potential solution for school lunches, and while we found this to be an enticing idea, after speaking with Michael and listening to Aaron's thoughts, Aaron thought it would be best to avoid this idea and look to a new solution.  We then, together, conducted research regarding food deserts and where other successes have taken place. We overall are proud of our shared responsibilities and contributions and look forward to finishing our proposal strong and (hopefully) presenting in Lansing.

FORMAL PROPOSAL

The sections below should comprise your final proposal language, submitted for consideration by your peers and potential inclusion in the MSC Platform.

Preambulatory clauses

These set up the PROBLEM, but not the solution.

WHEREAS around 1,400,000 people in Michigan go hungry every year, with 400,000 of them being children, people facing hunger are estimated to report needed an additional $700,000 year to meet their food needs.

WHEREAS obesity among children as young as two and three years old is associated with lower function in verbal, social and motor skills, students need programs through their school systems that will allow for healthier meals with high nutrient and vitamin levels.

WHEREAS studies illustrate that children are not able to perform as well in school and are developing more physiological problems.

(Add more "Whereas" clauses if necessary.)

Operative clauses

These describe in detail, the solution you are proposing (not the problem itself; those should go in the "Whereas" clauses above).

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED....

1.  Conducting research in regard to food deserts and where other successes have taken place. For example, the state of Pennsylvania has brought 100 new grocery stores to areas where food deserts previously existed, helped hunger and health in several areas.

2. By governments subsidizing, with potential tax money, healthily meals to middle and high schools within certain areas. This money can come from a local and or state level in order to help kids who struggle with a lack of nutrients attain the healthy diet they deserve. This will also alleviate pressure off the parents who are struggling to pay for healthy meals for their kids.

3. Enacting a proposal, potentially sponsored by government, to make healthy foods cheaper so families can afford to purchase them. If this means opening up a low-income grocery stores that offers a selection of foods at a discount, families will be able to obtain the fruits and vegetables, and other nutrient-rich foods to serve to their families. This will improve the health of many families and have serious benefits to the youth that are still growing and learning every day.

(Add more "Resolved" clauses if necessary.)

Counter-arguments:

What are three reasonable arguments against this proposal?

1. A 2011 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed no connection between access to grocery stores and more healthful diets using 15 years’ worth of data from more than 5,000 people in five cities. One 2012 study showed that the local food environment did not influence the diet of middle-school children in California. 

2. There's no observed relationship between how well children eat and the food available near their homes.

3. A new study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton and the US Department of Agriculture summarized in the Chicago Policy Review concludes that after controlling for differences in educational attainment and income, variations in physical access to food explain less than ten percent of the variation in consumption of healthy foods. They also find that the opening of new, healthier supermarkets in neighborhoods has very little effect on food consumption patterns of local residents. 

Costs and funding:

What will your proposal cost (in direct expenses, lost tax revenue, lost economic opportunity, and/or non-monetary costs)? How will you pay for your proposed legislation? Where will/could the funding for your proposal come from?  Who might object to dedicating resources to your proposal (competing interests)?  

Our proposal will not cost a dime to the government.  Instead, the government will offer tax benefits to new grocery stores in specific areas.  So, instead of gaining the money they normally would off taxes to these grocery stores, they will earn a little less money, but this is still more money than having no grocery stroes at all.

References:

IMPORTANT: "A food desert must be more than 1 mile away from a grocery store in a metropolitan area or more than 10 miles away outside of a metropolitan area. It must also meet population requirements and have either a poverty rate of at least 20% or a median family income that does not exceed 80% of the median for the state or metropolitan area."

We have used so many sources that helped us understand this issue.  Our proposal has 

Below are a few cool websites that display situations where our proposal has been successful:

https://evans.house.gov/issues/food-insecurity

Pennsylvania:

-"As Evans learned more about the importance of food access for public health and the economic vitality of a neighborhood, he continued his work with The Food Trust and other partners to help communities throughout the state and the country through the creation of the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative and the national Healthy Food Financing Initiative. Simply put, he says, “we needed to do something.”

Those public-private partnerships provided financing for grocery stores and other fresh food retailers to open in communities that lacked access to healthy foods, sometimes called “food deserts.” In Pennsylvania alone, the initiatives made healthy food more available to an estimated 400,000 underserved residents throughout the commonwealth."

https://timryan.house.gov/press-release/congressman-tim-ryan-introduces-legislation-eradicate-food-deserts

Ohio:

"The bipartisan Healthy Food Access for All Americans (HFAAA) Act sets up a system of tax credits and grants for businesses and nonprofits who serve these low-income and low-access urban and rural areas. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), an estimated 37 million Americans live in food deserts."

"In order to qualify for a tax credit or grant for servicing qualifying food deserts, business and nonprofits must be certified as a “Special Access Food Provider (SAFP) by the Treasury Department and USDA. The Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act qualifies as SAFPs those businesses and nonprofits who service food deserts through the following:

  • New Store Construction: Companies that construct new grocery stores in a food desert will receive a onetime 15% tax credit (of the property plan and construction) after receiving certification from a regional CDE and Treasury/USDA as an SAFP.
  • Retrofitting Existing Structures: Companies that make retrofits to an existing store’s healthy food sections can receive a onetime 10% tax credit after the repairs certify the store as an SAFP. 
  • Food Banks: Food banks that build new (permanent) structures in food deserts, will be eligible to receive a onetime grant for 15% of their construction costs, after certification as an SAFP. 
  • Temporary Access Merchants: Temporary access merchants (i.e. mobile markets, farmers markets, and some food banks) that are 501©(3)s will receive grants for 10% of their service costs for that year. "

http://thefoodtrust.org/uploads/media_items/pabifoldfinal.original.pdf

 


 

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