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Recipe Re-Mix, Ingredients for a Healthier Future

Recipe Re-Mix provides Cleveland’s marginalized neighborhoods ways to adopt Internet access and technology to gain healthier eating habits

Photo of Susan Porter
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

DigitalC

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Cornell University College of Hotel Management (Ivy League Institute of Higher Learning) Cuyahoga Metropolitian Housing Authority ( 1st public housing authority in the country and currently in the top ten largest housing authorities in the country) Greater Cleveland Neighborhood Center Association (small NGO providing services to low-income communities)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

http://www.digitalc.org

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Cleveland

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Cleveland, a city in the United States, covers an area of 213.57 km^2

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Born and raised in the southern region of the United States, I’ve lived in Cleveland for most of the last 20 years. My two grown daughters live in Cleveland. My three grandchildren live in Cleveland. Cleveland is my home.

I am very aware of the inequality experienced by friends and neighbors. I am very aware of how systems have prevented people (based on race, ethnicity, religion, etc.) from enjoying the same privileges I’ve enjoyed.

I am very aware that at this moment I can pick up my cellphone and buy groceries which will be delivered to my doorstep. However, if a person doesn’t have a credit or debit card this option is unavailable to them. My neighbor cannot use her government food supplement benefits to purchase groceries online.

Having started this project two years ago, the residents I’ve been working with from the marginalized neighborhoods and I have become like family. Sometimes we laugh together. Sometimes we cry together. However, we all want the same thing and that is an opportunity to have equal access to the things which will allow us all to live a healthy life.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Located at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River and the shores of Lake Erie, Cleveland sits on Ohio’s North Coast. There is a definite difference between seasons in Cleveland; winters are gray, frigid and snowy; spring is mild, rainy with enough sun to sprout gardens; summers can be hot and muggy; and finally, autumn brings chilly air and sometimes an early snow.

There was once a large and vibrant ethnic population in Cleveland’s urban center. The last several decades have seen many ethnic groups relocate to the suburban areas outside of the city center – mostly white immigrants from Europe who had come to Cleveland to work in manufacturing. Left behind were the people of color who have been the victims of systemic redlining which prevented them from renting homes in “white” neighborhoods, much less buying one. Since the middle of the last century, the poor in Cleveland continue to get poorer. Gentrification has forced long-time residents from their homes when rents became too high for them to stay. According a recent census survey, Cleveland ranks highest in child poverty within the United States.

When the telecommunication giants brought Internet connectivity to Cleveland, over 50,000 households were left on the wrong side of the digital divide. The good news is that smaller ISPs are providing free to low-cost high-speed Internet to these previously marginalized households. Access alone, however, is not enough, given the broader set of challenges in these neighborhoods. The average annual income for a family of four living in these marginalized neighborhoods ranges from $9,700 to $23,500. The statistics also show that 66% of adults living in the City are functionally illiterate; 1 in 7 adults have diabetes; 59% live in a food desert; and 39,440 household units do not have full kitchens.

Healthy foods are not easy to come by in the marginalized communities of Cleveland. Without nearby grocery stores, residents often rely on the corner bodega. The bodegas offerings of healthy foods are slim, if at all. Inexpensive and heavily processed foods are the staple of most diets in the inner city. The Greater Cleveland Food Bank and other smaller non-profits deliver fresh produce to some of the residents once a month, but it’s not enough to provide anyone a stable healthy diet. Hence the once robust traditional meals made of fresh foods are now made of unhealthy processed ingredients.

Crime is another problem within the marginalized communities. Drugs, unemployment, and poverty make for a deadly combination.

Where do we begin? All of these issues are connected and interrelated. If a person is hungry and malnourished, they cannot hold employment, or succeed in school. Without a job or an education, the cycle of poverty will continue from generation to generation. I believe a good place to start is to make sure all members of our community have access to affordable healthy food options.

The residents from the marginalized communities have expressed what they want. They want equality; equal access to healthy food, education, transportation, and health care.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

214

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

384000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The six Themes described in the tool kit are interconnected and vital to people’s lives. A healthy community depends on the six themes working together as a whole. The system in Cleveland is broken for those most in need.

The participants involved in our current project, Recipe Re-Mix, face many barriers to eating a healthy diet. The major barriers: living in a food desert prevents access to fresh produce and healthier ingredients found in suburban grocery stores (environment); a lack of transportation prevents travel to full-service grocery stores outside of the community (policy on public transportation); the lack of knowledge on how to cook healthier foods, as well as the inability to identify fruits and vegetables they’ve never used (culture); and finally, the lack of money to buy healthy, but often expensive healthy ingredients (economics).

In trying to understand how residents were using their new Internet connectivity, a focus group was created in a public housing senior community which was a recipient of free Internet services provided through a collaborative effort between local non-profits. It was discovered that most residents were not utilizing their Internet services. They also had little understanding of how their new connectivity could have a positive impact in their lives. Participants of the focus group discussed their concerns in life. The top four concerns: Heart Health, High Blood Pressure, Diabetes, and Obesity. The residents were more concerned about obesity in their grandchildren than themselves. All top concerns are medical issues and are directly affected by diet.

People can’t utilize their new technology to improve their lives if they are unable to read, write, or engage with the online resources.

Looking ahead to 2050, without innovation and more than a stopgap measure to address the many barriers faced by Cleveland residents living in poverty, the cycle will continue to perpetuate. As it is, only 17% of Cleveland residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, 15% have less than a high school education and 33% have completed high school. It is difficult to compete in today’s job market with less than a college degree. Life will only get harder for those living in marginalized communities.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The goal of this initial phase of this project is to continue with identifying and re-mixing favorite recipes from the participants living in public housing. We meet twice a month. During our meetings the participants discuss a favorite traditional/cultural recipe and then the following session we use the kitchen in the community room of the public housing facility to make the recipe(s) identified during the previous session. We will also increase the number of visits to senior facilities in the area where we provide cooking demonstrations and teach residents how to access the Recipe Re-Mix sessions via Zoom. Along with re-mixed recipes, the  cost of ingredients will be provided, so participants know the total cost of making the recipe. We also collaborate with the local food bank to determine what fresh foods are available, so we can incorporate those items into the re-mixed recipes.

The current plan contains the following new technologies we will develop and/or deploy: A professional website which will allow each remixed recipe to be easily accessed by the population we serve; Expand the reach of the live streaming efforts by providing instructor led, hands-on learning to area senior residential facilities during Recipe Re-Mix cooking sessions; Video tape our cooking sessions and create a You-Tube channel for people to watch. This will enable people who have limited reading skills the ability to watch the participants cook the recipes. We will also provide closed captioning to the videos for people who are hearing impaired.

As previously discussed, the participants involved in Recipe Re-Mix face many barriers to eating a healthy diet. The major barriers: living in a food desert prevents access to fresh produce and healthier ingredients found in suburban grocery stores; a lack of transportation prevents travel to full-service grocery stores outside of the community; the lack of knowledge on how to cook healthier foods, as well as the inability to identify fruits and vegetables they’ve never used; and finally, the lack of money to buy healthy, but often expensive healthy ingredients.

We want to create micro-industries which will allow for employee-owned operations to produce products based on the recipes developed by the residents. The next step is to evaluate the following ideas for the “for-profit social enterprise”:

  • Prepare and package pre-measured meal-kits based on re-mixed recipes
  • Prepare and package “ Heat and Serve” versions of some of the recipes we have re-mixed
  • Buy healthy ingredients in “bulk” then sell in smaller quantities (co-op model?)
  • Deliver the above products to community hubs within each community for easy pick-up for residents – no more food deserts
  • Work with government entities to create a way for people to buy groceries online using their SNAP benefits.

 The goal of the social enterprise is for the employees to own the company and for it to be sustainable

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

With the challenges addressed the residents who live in Cleveland’s marginalized communities will have hope for a better future.

Employment alone will provide a sense of self-worth which is missing today. The ability to produce healthy food ingredients for members of their community will provide a sense of pride. Learning new skills and earning certifications will create a sense of satisfaction. Earning money and becoming a productive member of society.

The ability to buy healthy ingredients at an affordable price will allow people to cut the processed and chemically laden food products from their diets.

Children will be able to go to school with a belly full of healthy food and will be able to think clearly. 

With healthy food available at a nearby community hub, transportation is no longer a worry – no more food deserts. Technology can be used to order products for pick-up at the community hub.

Through this vision, life will be much different for residents of these communities.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Once filled with marginalized communities, Cleveland is a thriving city full of productive communities.

Only 30 years ago the statistics were staggering; 1 in 4 adults were obese; only 25% of adults reported meeting the recommended fruit and vegetable consumption; about 50% of all Cleveland residents lived in a food desert; 34.65% Clevelanders lived below the poverty level. All that has changed.

The industry boom within these former marginalized communities is like nothing anyone has ever witnessed. The barriers seemed insurmountable. That did not stop a group of senior citizens from taking matters into their own hands to change their fate and the fate of their families.

It started by creating healthier versions of their favorite traditional/cultural recipes. The barriers of obtaining affordable and healthy ingredients was tough, so they learned how to create their own.

These de-centralized production facilities in the different communities were created to produce versions of the re-mixed recipes. The products ranged from heat and serve entrees and side dishes which could be easily heated up for those who lacked a full kitchen in which to cook a meal, or for those who like the convenience. along with the heat and serve dishes, meal kits were built and sold in the community for those who liked to prepare their meals. Lastly, they offered healthy ingredients on a “as needed” basis. This meant that they bought healthy ingredients, such a “plant-based pasta” in bulk and them would sell whatever amount needed to community members.

These once micro-industries are now large industries and provides a living wage to over 3000 local employees. All employees have stock options after their first year of employment. They not only have 6 production plants around the city, the warehousing, delivery services, and full-service restaurants featuring healthy foods, storefronts with fresh, healthy, and affordable food in each community. Recipe Re-Mix also has an online video network featuring the re-mixed recipes and everything else a person would want to know about living a healthy lifestyle.

As the social enterprise grew, so did the products.

The employee owned social enterprise decided to make their own ingredients. With help from  industry experts, they began reaping produce that would have normally flown to the waste-stream. They obtained spent grains from breweries and distilleries with which they dehydrated in huge dehydrators. When the spent grains were dried, they ground it into flour. This product alone provided 12x the fiber, 9x the protein, and  1/3 of the carbs of the heavily processed all-purpose flour that had been a staple in their cooking. They created a partnership with local produce processors in which they would take the cuts of produce which would have gone to waste. They took this “waste” and dehydrated it. The vegetable pasta and breads we eat today came from this partnership the founders formed so long ago.

Once most of the residents would have done anything to have been able to move to the suburbs. Now these same communities are rooted by families who have been here for decades and have been instrumental in making these changes. Homes full of life and small gardens line the street where boarded up windows on abandoned houses once flourished.

Once afraid to be outside in the evening for fear of being shot. You’ll now find parents are on the playgrounds filled with the cries and laughter of the smaller children. Neighborhood parks are filled with the older kids on their Chromebooks doing their school homework.

Schools no longer have metal detectors searching for guns students might have brought in with them.

Where once the opportunity to get a degree in higher education was not on the radar for most. Today, 9 out of ten kids go on to an institute of higher learning – be it college or a technical institute, they are on the path to a bright future.

The social enterprise which was founded 30 years ago has brought more than fresh and healthy food options to a marginalized community. These “Cedar High Rise Pioneers of Healthy Eating”, in which they named themselves, are heroes. They created wealth in communities that stayed in the communities; they utilized technology to build a community among the senior facilities across the city; their determination forced government officials to revise the policies that had so negatively affected their communities; and they created not hope, but a promise for a better future for their families and neighbors.

There are very few founders left, but the legacy they left behind has brought these dying communities back to life.

 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Friend saw the opportunity and thought of me!

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Photo of Village Development  Center (VDC)
Team

Hi, I want to create a network with you.
Email;- vdcrangpur@gmail.com

Photo of Susan Porter
Team

Of course!

Photo of Village Development  Center (VDC)
Team

Thank you very much

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