Meet Cleveland’s new coordinator working to promote access to fresh, healthy food

Meet Cleveland’s new coordinator working to promote access to fresh, healthy food

A healthy diet includes a variety of foods that are low in added sugars, salt and saturated fats and high in fibre. It also contains lean meats and poultry, fish, beans and other legumes (beans and peas), soy products and unsalted nuts.

CLEVELAND — Zainab Pixler is several weeks into her new job at the city of Cleveland. The Southern California transplant is tapping into her experience as an advocate for fresh food access as she becomes the city’s first Local Food Systems Strategies Coordinator.

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“The challenge is fighting against a system that operates to keep the people from holding the power to shape their own food system,” Pixler said during an address at Village Family Farms Tuesday.

She explained her role will be to better coordinate the existing grassroots efforts around Cleveland, help local activists leverage resources and empower communities to tackle their own food access challenges.

“I want folks to feel like they had a voice and that their voice is being heard and that there’s action steps coming out of it,” she told News 5.

Advocates from several groups focused on supporting urban agriculture touted the importance of community-based food systems. Village Family Farms has been operating an urban garden in the Hough neighborhood since 2014, helping address disparities that contribute to a life expectancy several decades shorter than in more affluent Cleveland neighborhoods.

“It hasn’t been an easy ride. But it’s been one that’s been worth it seeing the effect we’ve had throughout the years on seniors, young adults, working with students within CMSD,” said Jamel Rahkeera, who owns and operates the farm.

Analysis conducted in 2018 by the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission found that nearly half a million people in Cuyahoga County lack access to affordable, healthy fresh food, including 59% of all Cleveland residents.

The city’s Collinwood neighborhood met food desert criteria with the closure of Dave’s Market in April 2022.

The family-owned grocery chain has been offering shuttle service to its next closest location, 3.5 miles away, in the months since the closure. Many in the nearby senior highrise are relying on public transportation to get the meat, produce, and other items not available within walking distance.

“I have to catch the bus to the other days down on 185th or Save-A-Lot, catch the bus. It’s all down that way,” said Ronald Minor. “That’s awful because I have to have my cart with me, my shopping cart. And then carrying the bags back, that’s a lot of trouble right there.”

Some say the lack of grocery access is not only an inconvenience, it’s also a public health dilemma.

“It’s a big issue because, like I said, it affects the elderly the most,” said Tomeeka Clemons, who also lives in Collinwood.

The new Local Food Systems Strategies Coordinator position was born out of conversations about hunger and food access between the Cleveland Department of Public Health and grassroots community organizations. Pixler said involving those local activists is key to addressing the challenges.

“It’s a big beast to tackle. But what I’m really looking to do is supporting community-owned food programs, similar to urban farms and gardens, really supporting communities in building their own food infrastructure,” she said. “When we’re thinking about increasing food access, urban farms and gardens are great. But you also have to think about how you get that food to people.”

Pixler plans to develop a food action plan for the city to create lasting solutions. She also hopes the 2-year grant-funded position will become a permanent role.

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Kerri Waldron

My name is Kerri Waldron and I am an avid healthy lifestyle participant who lives by proper nutrition and keeping active. One of the things I love best is to get to where I am going by walking every chance I get. If you want to feel great with renewed energy, you have to practice good nutrition and stay active.

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