Sally Stevenson, of Oakland Township, shops for produce at the Oakland County Market from May Kayla,  of Hang Farms  in New Haven.

Sally Stevenson, of Oakland Township, shops for produce at the Oakland County Market from May Kayla, of Hang Farms in New Haven.

File photo by Heather Gardner


County wants input to prevent fresh food obstacles

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published February 5, 2018

OAKLAND COUNTY — The Oakland County Food Policy Council wants to know what’s on the menu in your neck of the woods.

The council recently launched a survey to gather information about the county’s food system and residents’ eating habits. Anyone age 18 or older is welcome to take the survey through April 16 online or via hard copy obtained from the council.

“This is the first assessment, to our knowledge, of the food system in Oakland County,” said Kathy Forzley, director of health and human services for Oakland County. “It will help the (OCFPC) better understand what barriers people face in trying to purchase healthy foods.”

Participants will be asked about accessibility to farmers markets and food pantries that exist in their community, and in what areas the council can improve to ensure that all residents can provide their family with a nutritious diet with fresh foods. The goal is to make sure there aren’t any areas in the county where residents can only access processed or fast food options — a problem often referred to as “food deserts.”

According to Michigan.org, there are more than 250 farmers markets throughout the state, but they’re largely located in downtowns and wealthier suburban areas, sometimes leaving poor and rural communities in the lurch.

In an effort to combat the issue, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation in late December that expands the definition of what’s considered to be an eligible property for community revitalization incentives to include businesses used for neighborhood and commercial food corridor food initiatives. Essentially, grocery stores, delis and other fresh food vendors are now eligible for state development incentives, and 5 percent of the incentives awarded by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. will be directed toward those types of establishments.

The Oakland County Health Division received a seed grant from the Michigan Local Food Council Network, sponsored by the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems, to fund the survey. The OCHD was one of six such councils to receive the $6,000 grant last August. The health division will provide in-kind support with staffing.

“Gathering input from the community is a critical part of the food system assessment. Hearing from residents and people who work or recreate in Oakland County enhances our understanding of what people experience and need when trying to purchase healthy foods,” Oakland County Health Officer Leigh-Anne Stafford said in an email.

The survey is available online through the ECHO page of the Oakland County website. The Oakland County Food Policy Council is an action team of ECHO, which stands for Energizing Connections for Healthier Oakland. The council was formed in September 2016 with a mission of creating “a fair and culturally friendly food system in Oakland County that encourages healthy eating.”

Organizations in Oakland County that would like to provide a hard copy of the survey to their members can contact Dan Muncey at munceyd@oakgov.com or at (248) 858-0845.

Individuals can participate at www.OakGov.com/ECHO.