Healthy Food as Medicine: Community Changemaker Alyssa Snyder

Food System
Oct 29th, 2021 | By Nicole Sturzenberger

Eating healthy food nourishes the mind and the body but for low-income populations with health problems, access to healthy foods can be a huge obstacle in life. Some food banks and pantry recipients receive largely processed foods with a longer shelf life. But what if your health would improve if you had access to fresh fruits and vegetables?

While hanging out on porches, Alyssa Snyder and a group of friends mulled this concept over and dreamed up a vision for a healthier Northwest Arkansas. The group saw the impacts of poverty and poor diets on area residents, where many suffered from chronic illness and 1 in 4 were considered food insecure.

To solve this, Alyssa started Seeds That Feed, a nonprofit that collects and redistributes surplus foods from regional farms and retailers to at-risk populations. The organization works to turn excess food that might otherwise end up in a landfill into accessible foods, making healthier eating a reality for thousands.

Down to her roots

Alyssa grew up shadowing her mother as she worked for the local food bank delivering food to community members in need. From an early age she witnessed the power of helping people who needed a leg up. Alyssa went on to study business at the University of Arkansas, Walton College of Business and co-create multiple community-based startups, including one online application which helped match individuals with volunteer opportunities in their area. Through all her endeavors, she held onto the belief that the most effective way to influence change is to create it.

“While I only formally pursued a bachelor's degree, I often say that helping to create Seeds That Feed allowed me to receive my MBA, as I had to take every single thing I had learned throughout my education, and apply it into creating something that didn't exist.” stated Snyder.

Building the Relationships to Feed a Community

Changing the health of community members — and founding Seeds That Feed — started by building strong relationships. Alyssa and her cofounder began their journey by introducing themselves to farmers at the Fayetteville Farmers Market. Through these relationships, farmers began to donate excess produce at the end of the market to be distributed through the group to food insecure members of the community. The pair also began asking local farmers to plant one extra row of produce with donated seeds. Come harvest, the group brought together volunteers from the community to harvest and distribute the produce to food rescue organizations.

Today, Seeds That Feed works with over 70 farms in Arkansas, as well as the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market, DTR Market, and the Bentonville Farmers’ Market. Between 2012 - 2018, the organization recovered and re-distributed 127,671 pounds of food through 44 distribution sites in Arkansas.

Getting Food to those Who Need it Most

Alyssa and her team have established a number of programs which look to address the health of the whole person and the multiple issues and barriers they are facing. Their Carecropping program works directly with farmers who have excess food that might otherwise go to waste and redistributes it to food insecure Northwest Arkansas residents.

To address the transportation issue facing many, Alyssa launched their Mobile Food Network which brings a mobile pantry to centralized locations at low-income housing, senior residential centers, and other spots that serve food insecure populations. The pantry is stocked with healthy foods, as well as food prep tips and nutrition education information to teach residents why the foods are good for them. The Mobile Food Network brings valuable goods and services to many communities previously without access and has been warmly received by both community members who use the service and those who make donations. Since 2016, annual donations have doubled due to the program's success.

Seeds That Feed’s pHed program looks to catalyze food as medicine. The program delivers fresh produce from farms to the doorsteps of home-bound and at-risk populations experiencing chronic illness. This gives individuals who have limited mobility, or no access to transportation the ability to acquire the healthy foods they need. During the COVID-19 pandemic the pHed services helped immunocompromised individuals safely receive healthy food at home.

During the summer of 2021, Seeds That Feed launched a new program targeting Latinx and Marshallese populations at farmers markets in partnership with the Walmart Foundation and UAMS' Community Health and Research. The program distributes wooden tokens to families to be used at farmers’ markets in their airea. The tokens are worth between $20-$40 and can be redeemed to purchase local produce, jams, jellies, honey, breads, salsas, and other offerings. To date 250 tokens have been distributed to 250 families.

On the Horizon

After a year and a half of working with the same group of patients, Seeds That Feed is beginning to see the impacts of their pHed work. Many participants are sharing stories of improved mental and physical health which they attribute to the access to healthy fruits and vegetables. Alyssa is taking the time now to look thoughtfully at the results to determine the best method to translate and scale the success of the program. She would love to see similar programs across the country helping people heal their bodies with healthy food.

Tagged: Food security, food insecurity, local food, food, fight hunger, food system, hunger, food waste, food bank, innovation, holistic health

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