Veggies for All!
An equitable food system where everyone can access and afford fruits and vegetables from their local store.
California accounts for half of the national produce of produce, and while wealthier residents enjoy a bounty of food options, many California residents live in food deserts or merely cannot afford fruits and vegetables critical for their health and wellbeing.
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Vouchers 4 Veggies
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.
A key element to our program model is deep collaboration. We have multi-sector collaborations with government, community groups, grocers, corner-store owners, community-based organizations, researchers, policy makers, hospitals, health insurers, etc. We work directly with over 130 community-based organizations, clinics, and hospitals that distribute vouchers and a network of over 35 grocers that accept vouchers. Our funding partners include local Departments of Public Health, AARP Foundation, and Hellman Foundation. We participate in collaborations in CA and across the country (food security, food is medicine, produce RX, etc.).
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
San Francisco, California
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?
We are developing a Vision for the state of California with a special focus on the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles.
What country is your selected Place located in?
United States of America
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
I was born and raised in California. It’s my home. I’m proud to be a Californian. We are diverse, wacky, and optimistic. I love the ocean, the mountains, the cities, and the countryside. I love the food and the wide variety of people, but I hate the inequity and poverty. We can do better…
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.
California is colorful. We are the “golden” state, but so much more – the vast blue of the Pacific Ocean, the deep green of our redwood forests, the rows of colorful agriculture. There are rainbow flags and 49r football flags. It’s people of all colors and races. Drive around or take a ride on public transportation and you’ll see all kinds of people – brown, black, Asian, white. You’ll see suits, flannels, yellow-work vests, saris, baseball hats (worn sideways, backwards and everyway) tie-die, basketball jerseys, cowboy hats…the list goes on. And the food is as diverse as the people – burritos, pho, dim sum, tamales, pizza, falafel, and curry. Our attitudes are colorful as well . Californians are known for being “out there”.
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Low-income Californian’s face a separate and unequal food system. California accounts for half of the national production of produce, and while wealthier residents enjoy a bounty of food options, many California residents live in food deserts (areas without access to fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods) and more than one third of low-income residents cannot afford the fruits and vegetables critical for their health and wellbeing. In fact, one in five low-income households in California report ZERO weekly purchases of fruits and vegetables. The resulting diet disparity, disproportionally impacting people of color, leads to higher prevalence of chronic disease, higher health care expenses, and decreased quality of life. Poor diet is now the number one cause of death in the US, and over $500 billion dollars is spent annually treating chronic disease – most of which is preventable with diet and moderate exercise. This is a broken food system.
Of particular concern, is that dietary patterns, such as developing a pallet for fruits and vegetables, start early and follow throughout a persons’ lifetime. If children are not eating healthy now, by 2050 they are at significant risk for heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Already obesity rates in California rose 19% between 2001 and 2012 and half of Californians are diabetic or pre-diabetic. If nothing is done to curb these trends, by 2050 we will be facing a huge health epidemic.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Our program addresses this issue head on with a powerful, yet simple model. We provide healthy food vouchers/cards to residents through a network of hospitals, clinics and community-based organizations. The vouchers/cards we provide allow people to purchase fruits and vegetables at the grocery store where they regularly shop. Participants improve their dietary intake, increase their food security (their ability to access and consume enough affordable, healthy food) and support economic activity in underserved communities. There are other winners as well. The health care system saves money when people eat healthier and grocery stores, with faster produce turnover, re-stock produce more frequently and display greater variety – benefiting all members of the community. Vouchers 4 Veggies gives low-income people of color the resources to purchase healthy foods that fit into their cultures and lifestyles. The vouchers also address food deserts by supporting the ability of local retailers to stock fresh produce, supporting healthy and vibrant communities.
The program works. Since 2015, Vouchers 4 Veggies has reached over 10,000 individuals and families and infused millions of dollars of produce purchases in underserved communities. Participants increase their daily fruit and vegetable intake by 1 serving per day– enough for immediate health impacts and a 10% reduction in the risk of early death when sustained. Participants are more confident in making healthy food choices on a budget (98%) and report eating less unhealthy food (93%). Stores report selling more F&Vs (89%) and serving more customers (78%). One out of every two stores report displaying or stocking more F&Vs as a result of V4V – increasing the quality and quantity of produce available. Even after a year of no longer receiving vouchers, over 83% of participants maintain dietary behavior changes (such as eating less unhealthy food) and more than half eat significantly more daily fruits and vegetables, indicating long-term dietary behavior changes, despite economic barriers.
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.
By 2050, Californians will have “smart” refrigerators that sense when a food product is low and add the item to a shopping list on our phone. We will have cars that drive and park themselves at the grocery store. With the success of Vouchers 4 Veggies, residents of low-income communities, will walk into their local grocery store and be welcomed with bountiful displays of fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods. With a veggie card, they are ensured of having the financial resources to purchase fruits and vegetables critical for their health and wellbeing. Children will be eating bags of carrots instead of bags of chips. And families will feel better. There will be less diabetes and obesity – happier, healthy Californians.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
The ultimate goal of the Vouchers 4 Veggies collaboration is systems change - widespread support for healthy food subsidy because of recognition of the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables in maintaining health. Our vision is that all low-income California residents, in all neighborhoods, will have access to fruits and vegetables at the market where they regularly shop.
The USDA recommends that for each meal, half your plate should be colorful fruits and vegetables. While the recommendation is primarily to increase health outcomes (supported by a substantial body of research), it benefits the planet as well. Plant based foods are better for the environment. Dietary choices have a huge impact on the earth as well one’s health and wellness. The program also economically supports farmers and local economies while giving people options to choose foods that are culturally relevant. Advances in debit card technology has made the transaction system more feasible. For example, WIC - a National nutrition incentive program - utilizes cards that have a $8 or $11 produce supplement redeemable at grocers across the country. The program is community rooted as the vouchers/cards are distributed through community-based organizations and clinics in underserved neighborhoods – thereby reaching those most in need and enhancing the services offered by these organizations. In fact, many distribution sites report additional social cohesion as a result of the program, such as participants at a senior center shopping together with the vouchers and isolated individuals conversing with social workers about their food choices. The program is beneficial on multiple levels – nourishing the person, supporting the planet and strengthening communities.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?