by Craig Willingham, Cassandra Flechsig & Nicholas Freudenberg
Community Development Corporations (CDCs) and Settlement Houses (SHs) strive to create strong, healthy communities that make it easier for their residents to find healthy affordable food and good jobs. To advance work on achieving these two goals, the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, Local Initiatives Support Corporation New York City (LISC NYC), United Neighborhood Houses (UNH), and the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (Restoration) partnered to identify promising models for integrating workforce development and healthy food access. The goal of such integration is to expand the capacity of these organizations to grow and nurture new approaches to creating more good food jobs, approaches that have the potential for being developed, expanded and sustained in low-income neighborhoods across New York City. While our focus in this report is on New York City, we believe that the models and strategies described here are also relevant to other cities in the United States.
Good food jobs are jobs that offer a living wage job and benefits, provide safe working conditions, and produce, distribute, or sell healthy, affordable food and make it more available to low-income communities.
The strongest argument for a good food jobs strategy is that it contributes to solving simultaneously three major social problems facing New York City and other cities. First, it increases employment within the food sector. Second, it improves wages, working conditions and benefits for these food workers. Third, it promotes access to affordable healthy food to residents of low-income neighborhoods. In practice, of course, these goals can conflict, making it important for all those who can benefit from more good food jobs to work together to develop effective and equitable strategies for expanding this sector.
This guide describes five approaches to integrating healthy food access and workforce development at CDCs and SHs across New York City. For each approach, it provides a description, rationale, and some examples of how this strategy is being used at CDCs and SHs in New York City. The purpose is to assist CDC and SH leaders and staff, policy makers and funders to identify options for integrating healthy food access and workforce development initiatives and to select the model or models most appropriate to their mission, assets and their experience in these two domains. The five approaches, each illustrated with profiles of existing examples, are: Youth Food Programs, Retail Food Job Programs, Institutional Food Programs, Community Chef Programs, and Food Business Incubators.
Good food jobs programs prepare participants for career advancement, professional growth and enhanced earning power. They also seek to provide trainees with the knowledge, skills, competencies and credentials needed to succeed in the food sector. This includes “soft” skills like critical thinking, leadership, and the ability to work as part of a team. The guide describes some of the training programs that can assist in realizing these goals and the partnerships that CDCs and SHs are creating with these programs, with a focus on academic programs at City University of New York, an institution committed to providing access to post-secondary education to the people of New York City.
Today CDCs and SHs in New York City are actively exploring how to link food system jobs in urban agriculture, food production, food service and sales and how to prepare the people they serve to be ready for these jobs. The good food jobs approach to workforce development is one based on values related to equity, fairness, and job mobility. To move beyond a niche effort, these programs will need additional support, attention and planning from CDCs, SHs and the organizations that support and fund them. Several organizations have already demonstrated success in creating various types of good food jobs initiatives and provide grounds for optimism that with support, this sector can grow.
By ramping up and coordinating the many small-scale efforts to grow food jobs in community-based organizations, CDCs and SHs can transform these now mostly separate efforts into a cohesive incubator and catalyst for food system change. Our assessment of current practice highlighted some characteristics of successful programs. By adapting these practices, leaders of CDCs and SHs can help to create stronger, bigger and smarter good food jobs programs. Key characteristics of successful programs include:
Provide enthusiastic support for the development of a good food jobs program prior to implementing any programs in your organization. No program can be successful without broad leadership support. To help leaders play this role, program planners need to keep leaders informed about progress and problems.
Match the skills and learning strategies developed with the needs of the program participants. Identify what soft and hard skills are required for the specific good food job employment niches and develop tools, materials, and curriculum to teach those skills. Evaluate the success of these tools and adjust the curriculum accordingly.
Engage the participants enrolled in training programs in the design, implementation and evaluation of these programs.
Train the trainer models are efficient, cost-effective, and productive approaches for impact. For example, several programs have trained community chefs to train other community chefs; therefore, reducing the burden on staff as new leaders emerge to help run programs. This strategy also helps to build morale among program participants, which is particularly important when hard-working youth still struggle to find employment. The “train the trainer” model allows these star students to receive valuable leadership experience, which they can include on their resume.
Collaborate with other local organizations. By partnering with the many organizations working in the healthy food and workforce development sectors, CDCs, SHs and other community organizations can leverage limited resources and connect program participants with other services that partner organizations may offer.
While the good food jobs strategy is only one component of the transformation our food system will need to support healthier, stronger and more sustainable communities, it is a practical, accessible and engaging approach for the thousands of organizations working in New York and other cities to improve the well-being of low-income populations.
The existing healthy food access and workforce development programs in these organizations can become engines that drive meaningful changes in health outcomes and financial mobility in underserved neighborhoods. Furthermore, several trends support growth in the good food jobs sector including the rise in fast casual, often healthier restaurant options, increases in the numbers of farmers’ markets in New York City and nationwide and the expanded use of healthy institutional food with programs like the City’s universal free school lunch program. These trends indicate a growth in opportunities for workers in jobs that offer a living wage and benefits, provide safe working conditions, produce, distribute, or sell healthy, affordable food and make healthy food available and accessible to low-income communities.
We find ourselves in a unique moment, one where critical shifts are underway in food sector jobs. Food workforce development programs at CDCs, SHs and similar organizations are in a prime position to take advantage of these changes to prepare those that they serve to find employment in the emerging good food jobs field.