City Program Turns Attention to Food

Portland Parks and Recreation is taking on healthy eating
June 16, 2010 -- Portland Parks and Recreation already offers free and low-cost recreational opportunities for Portlanders to get active and stay fit, but lasting health goes beyond dance classes and hiking trails.
"Parks motto is 'Healthy Parks, Healthy Portland,” says Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish. “We're working hard to take that commitment to the next level."
The Healthy Portland Initiative puts a community health lens on existing services and programs -- with a major emphasis on healthy eating.
“Communities who have easy access to healthy food and opportunities to exercise are healthier communities – our parks system is at the heart of this movement,” says Fish.
When Fish found himself in charge of the Portland Housing Bureau and Portland Parks and Recreation, his office discovered a wait list of over a thousand people for participation in community gardens.
“There was a huge demand,” says Emily Hicks, policy coordinator for Fish’s office. His team worked to bring together community leaders, public agencies and local businesses to come up with creative solutions to offer more opportunities for Portlanders to grow food -- like the single-day build of 23 plots in the new North Brentwood Community Garden, made possible by Fiskars Co., Home Depot, Friends of Portland Community Gardens and community volunteers.
Portland currently boasts 35 community gardens.The city’s Climate Action Plan calls for 1,000 new plots by the end of 2012.
Portland Parks’ Produce for People program also encourages community gardeners to grow extra food to be donated.
“We’ve been able to successfully link a lot of community gardeners within specific neighborhoods to their closest hunger relief agency,” Hicks says.
Other Healthy Portland program initiatives include a federally-funded pilot project at St. Johns Community Center to provide free meals to kids enrolled in after-school programs. Parks partnered with Portland Public Schools and the Oregon Hunger Task Force on the project.
“Some of the staff had recognized that kids that were participating in our after-school programs were really hungry,” Hicks says. “They even started purchasing some food with their petty cash, like bags of bread or crackers and tubs of peanut butter.”
Hicks says the pilot project’s free meals meet nutritional standards and “actually may be the only meal in the evening that some of these kids get.”
In collaboration with the mayor’s office, Portland Parks is also working to expand the summer playground program that acts as a “safety net” for kids when the school year comes to a close.
“These sites not only offer free recreational opportunities for the kids during the day,” says Hicks. “They’re also the sites where the free lunch is distributed.”
Another way Healthy Portland hopes to help people make healthier choices is through that mainstay of convenience, the vending machine. Beginning June 21, vending machines at Portland Parks recreational centers will be stocked with healthier options.
“It will limit the amount of things like sodium and fat content and sugar content of the snacks that we have available,” says Hicks. “It’s basically getting the worst offenders out.”
“We’re taking a close look at our parks system and finding more ways to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” says Fish.


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