This program leveraged VHCB’s broad network of contacts among affordable housing providers and food systems groups to support community-level collaboration and improve access to healthy foods by residents of affordable housing.
VHCB‘s Food Access & Affordable Housing Initiative got off the ground in 2014 when Melanie Meisenheimer, an Emerson National Hunger Fellow hosted by VHCB and sponsored by the Congressional Hunger Center, convened regional gatherings in Brattleboro, Rutland, and the Northeast Kingdom. The meetings gathered affordable housing providers and food system groups to consider how they could connect, understand one another’s work, and identify potential collaborations. Melanie's report, Integrating Food Access & Affordable Housing, summarized the obstacles and opportunities. Another resource, published by the Vermont Community Garden Network, is the Edible Landscaping & Community Gardening Toolkit for Affordable Housing Communities. The regional gatherings spurred many new relationships and collaborations among local partners.
In early 2017, VHCB hosted Food Access & Affordable Housing Initiative meetings in Bennington and Central Vermont, bringing together residents, affordable housing developers and managers, and those involved in food systems to improve access to healthy foods by residents of affordable housing communities.
Grants for Food Access Pilot Projects at Affordable Housing Sites
VHCB’s Food Access & Affordable Housing Initiative awarded $14,000 in funding to support food access programming at affordable housing sites that increases residents’ access to local, healthy food. This initiative seeks to support new collaborations between affordable housing and food access organizations to assist residents in eating more fresh, healthy foods and overcome barriers such as cost, transportation, and familiarity with preparing and eating these foods.
Eligible projects include a number of types of programs or services include cooking & nutrition classes, community meals, local food buying clubs, community gardening, edible landscaping, etc.
February 2018 Grant Awards
VHCB made its third round of mini-grants to projects that connect food access work with affordable housing communities. Six projects received $14,127.85, as follows:
- Burlington Housing Authority - $827.85 to build an emergency food shelf at Franklin Square in Burlington.
- Good Food Good Medicine - $2,800 to run an 8-week cooking and nutrition program at Green Acres in Barre and open to Highgate residents too.
- Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services - $2,400 to continue a project that provides transport to affordable housing residents across Bennington, brings them to their space once a week for a three-hour exercise, cooking and nutrition class.
- Living Well Group - $3,600 to support the expansion of gardening activities at Ethan Allen Residence in Burlington by purchasing additional raised bed materials for a garden expansion, installing a rain garden, and bringing in the Vermont Community Garden Network to provide garden support and weekly horticultural therapy.
- Shires Housing - $3,500 to provide cooking classes and community gardening at Cora B. Whitney and Applegate.
- Vermont State Housing Authority - $1,000 to purchase 4 container gardens for Green Mountain Apartments in Northfield.
Spring 2017 Grant Awards
In June 2017, with support from the Vermont Community Foundation, VHCB awarded grants to five projects that address food access barriers for residents of affordable housing. The grants will support collaborations between affordable housing providers and their food systems partners:
- Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services was awarded $2,400 to run two cohorts of FoodFit programming specifically for residents of Applegate, Wallomsac, Brookside and Willowbrook housing sites. This course involves peer mentoring that connects participants with exercise experiences, local produce, and cooking lessons.
- Barre Housing Services was awarded $2,000 for one of its properties, Tilden House, to run monthly cooking classes through December.
- Twin Pines Housing was awarded $3,713 to create a garden at Safford Commons in Woodstock and revitalize a garden at Overlook House in White River Junction.
- Addison County Community Trust was awarded $5,425 to collaborate with the New Communities Project and Vermont Edible Landscapes to plant edible, perennial "food forests" at three mobile home parks in Starksboro.
- Champlain Housing Trust was awarded $1,450 for a three-part project that includes: 1) paying for a summer intern to manage the veggie garden at Harbor Place; 2) Renting the NOFA Pizza Oven for an end-of-season workday at a newly acquired property; 3) purchasing a stock of garden tools for CHT to facilitate easier coordination of garden activities.
2016 Grant Awards
With support from the Vermont Community Foundation and the High Meadows Fund, VHCB awarded grants for projects in 2016 that included cooking and nutrition classes, community meals, community gardens, and edible landscaping.
2016 Grant recipients:
- The Vermont Community Garden Network used a grant of $3,527 to collaborate with Housing Vermont, the Cathedral Square Corporation and the North Avenue Co-op, bringing together residents and staff to plan new gardens and enlarge existing ones at Southview Apartments in Springfield, Peter Coe Village in Middlebury, Kelley’s Field in Hinesburg, and North Avenue Co-op Mobile Home Park in Burlington.
- United Children’s Services, home to Bennington County Head Start, used a $2,963 grant to offer cooking classes for residents of Willow Brook, a Bennington Housing Partnerships family rental housing property.
- Housing Vermont used $6,950 in grant funds to plant a community orchard at Southgate Apartments in Springfield. Partnering with NOFA-VT, they hosted seven community meals and food access conversations at affordable housing sites in Springfield, Barre, Windsor, Bradford, Middlebury, St. Johnsbury and Bennington.
- A VHCB grant of $1,560 helped the Lamoille Housing Partnership provide nutrition and cooking classes at four senior housing sites using seasonal vegetables available at local supermarkets where residents shop.
- The Lamoille Housing Partnership sponsored coooking classes at four senior housing sites in Lamoille County, using seasonal vegetables available at local supermarkets.
There is a close connection between housing security and food security. Both are basic needs that a family must account for, and the two can become competing priorities on a tight budget. According to the Vermont Foodbank’s “Hunger in America 2014” report, conducted in partnership with Feeding America,
"52 percent of households who are clients of the Vermont Foodbank were forced to choose between paying for food and paying their rent or mortgage at least once in the 12-month period measured. Based on the number of households and individuals the Foodbank served in those 12 months, that amounts to 12.8% of all Vermonters. A family’s ability to pay for their food is directly related to their ability to pay for their housing. Improving one will improve the other."
The clearest obstacle to meeting both needs is poverty. In the sense that food insecurity is a problem because people don’t have enough money available for food purchases, affordable housing is an obvious part of the solution. When families are no longer overburdened by housing expenses, they have more income available for food. Other obstacles, identified by both individuals working in affordable housing and residents themselves, are the cost of food and difficulties in obtaining transportation. These barriers may be further complicated by a lack of experience purchasing, preparing, and preserving fresh food items.
By helping affordable housing providers and food systems groups to collaborate, VHCB's Food Access & Affordable Housing Initiative hopes to extend the bounty of our thriving local food system to households living in affordable housing developments.