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A $3.8 million federal grant will help people in St. Louis Promise Zone improve their health

Mitchell Pearson, founder of Phi Global LLC, holds a handful of ripe tomatoes on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022, at his farm in Spanish Lake.
Britny Cordera
NPR Next Generation Radio
Mitchell Pearson, founder of Phi Global, holds a handful of ripe tomatoes in September 2022. The federal grant funding will help Pearson and other north St. Louis and north St. Louis County farmers, food co-ops, food banks and local health organizations provide people in communities in the St. Louis Promise Zone with access to healthy foods and wellness programs.

People in north St. Louis and north St. Louis County will benefit from $3.8 million in federal funding that will expand access to fresh fruits and vegetables to improve health and wellness in the area.

Washington University and St. Louis Integrated Health Network plan to provide monetary support to local farmers markets and food organizations and community health and wellness programs with the five-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health program aims to center local organizations that are working to reduce health disparities and improve the overall health of Black communities in the St. Louis Promise Zone — areas in north St. Louis County and north St. Louis with high mortality rates, unemployment and crime.

The grant allows Wash U and the St. Louis Integrated Health Network to work with local farmers, health organizations and food justice groups to better inform leaders of how their communities can have healthier lives, said Andwele Jolly, president and CEO of St. Louis Integrated Health Network.

“It begins with the community in this project, which I think makes it better for those who have been historically excluded from these sorts of opportunities,” Jolly said.

Funding will expand access to fruit and vegetable vouchers by increasing the number of farmers markets and food stands that accept federal food assistance vouchers for fresh produce. It also will provide technical support to Trailnet, a St. Louis physical activity advocacy group. Families can also access community weight management programs.

The community health program will work with groups that are a part of Wash U’s Building Resilient Inclusive Communities, a program that promotes healthy living.

This is a small way to provide financial support to Black-owned farmers markets, community gardens, food co-ops and health organizations to create food sovereignty – more power over the food system – for communities that have limited access to fresh food stores and to community programs that promote culturally sensitive weight programs that tackle obesity, said Diana Parra Perez, program director and assistant professor at Wash U.

“One of the ways that we can have it [food sovereignty] is through community gardens and through small local solutions,” Parra Perez said. “We know that there's a lot of people that have benefited from the farmers market.”

The program also will connect health organizations to community food groups to help create programming that promotes physical activities in communities of color and prevents chronic diseases.

“It will take a long time, to be honest, to reverse or undo all the effects from health disparities from hundreds of years essentially,” she said. “I'm sure it's definitely going to contribute.”

Jolly hopes through the grant program, the Black communities in north St. Louis and north St. Louis County will start to see a change in overall health and wellness and see an improvement in their quality of life.

“It's truly getting at the opportunity to advance health equity for the region and a call to action that these collaborations are possible,” he said.

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.