Many Buffalo neighborhoods need healthier, more affordable food. Rite Aid steps in to help – Buffalo News

Many Buffalo neighborhoods need healthier, more affordable food. Rite Aid steps in to help – Buffalo News

Alexis Smith, left, a student learning agricultural entrepreneurship at the Massachusetts Avenue Project, tends to MAP’s West Side greenhouse garden in summer 2016 with, from left, Katie O’Connor of M&T Community Investment, MAP Executive Director Diane Picard, and fellow MAP student Jabert Boudreau.
The Massachusetts Avenue Project ran the only urban farm in Buffalo when it officially started 22 years ago on the West Side.
“People didn’t really understand food systems at all,” said Diane Pickard, who has been with the nonprofit group for more than two decades, almost half of them as executive director.
Five mobile food markets now crisscross the region. Farmers and entrepreneurs work together to build a healthier, more affordable food system. And dozens of community gardens now dot cities big and small, even in the poorest neighborhoods – and especially in Buffalo.
Rite Aid Healthy Futures became the latest benefactor to fuel that momentum when it recently announced will commit $600,000 to two leading food access programs in the city.
The money will flow through the drugstore chain-related foundation’s new Strengthening Cities signature initiative, a $10 million project designed to reduce health disparities for children and young adults living within city neighborhoods. The initiative also is making similar donations over two years to nonprofit organizations in Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Fresno, Calif., and Philadelphia.
“Racial inequities and health disparities across big cities and small towns in the U.S. continue to profoundly affect the lives and futures of tens of millions of Americans every day,” Matt DeCamara, executive director of Rite Aid Healthy Futures, said in a news release. “ZIP codes have unparalleled consequences for one’s life opportunities and long-term outlook. We cannot achieve racial equity if we do not also achieve health equity for all Americans.”
Martin Middleton helps unload vegetable and flower plants from the Eden Valley Growers at a Grassroots Gardens community garden in Buffalo. The organization has received a grant from Rite Aid Healthy Futures to continue its work to address health inequities in city neighborhoods.
Programs in Buffalo – one of the most segregated cities in the U.S. – will focus on East Side neighborhoods, where people of color make up three of every four residents, families tend to have limited means, and healthy, affordable food is often hard to find.
The Buffalo Center for Health Equity, which aims to eliminate race, economic and geographic-based health inequities by changing conditions that cause disease and shorten lives, will get half the money.
Grassroots Garden WNY and MAP will use the other half to support their collaborative Buffalo Food Justice Project, which focuses on underserved East Side neighborhoods.
The overall effort is designed to build more gardens, create more mobile and farmers markets and expand urban agriculture workforce development programs and small, food-based enterprises.
Pickard said the timing is right.
“With the pandemic, what we saw with our mobile market was a huge increase in interest of people wanting to buy seedlings to grow their own food,” she said, “but also knowing where their food came from, and being able to purchase more fruits and vegetables. And people were looking for affordable produce, because so many were hurting.
“There are lots of coalitions and groups doing great work in the city around building food equity,” she added, “really trying to build more food sovereignty in the city, where people have control over the land, where their food can be grown and how they access food.”
email: sscanlon@buffnews.com
Twitter: @BNrefresh@ScottBScanlon
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WNY Refresh Editor
I have covered a variety beats and editor positions in South Florida, Syracuse and, since 2004, my home Buffalo Niagara region. Since 2013, I’ve been editor of WNY Refresh, which focuses on health, fitness, nutrition and family life.
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Alexis Smith, left, a student learning agricultural entrepreneurship at the Massachusetts Avenue Project, tends to MAP’s West Side greenhouse garden in summer 2016 with, from left, Katie O’Connor of M&T Community Investment, MAP Executive Director Diane Picard, and fellow MAP student Jabert Boudreau.
Martin Middleton helps unload vegetable and flower plants from the Eden Valley Growers at a Grassroots Gardens community garden in Buffalo. The organization has received a grant from Rite Aid Healthy Futures to continue its work to address health inequities in city neighborhoods.
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