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Building an Alliance in New Brunswick

January 28, 2013 | Community News, New Brunswick

The entire city of New Brunswick is celebrating the opening of The Fresh Grocer, the long-anticipated, first full-service supermarket in New Brunswick in more than 20 years. Yet no organization is likely to be as energized by this monumental milestone as NJPHK-New Brunswick’s Community Partner, the New Brunswick Community Food Alliance (NBCFA), because of the important role the supermarket will play in supporting NBCFA’s mission. 

 NBCFA, officially recognized by the New Brunswick City Council just a year ago, works as a food policy council, and is comprised of a dynamic alliance of city residents, college students, community leaders, and local government working to build a sustainable and just food system in New Brunswick, ensuring that all residents have permanent access to nutritious, safe, affordable, and culturally appropriate food. The opening of the 50,000 square-foot supermarket from The Fresh Grocer, a company that develops new stores in communities lacking availability of healthy and affordable food, is welcomed as a major cornerstone on which to continue building the Alliance’s initiatives.

The Fresh Grocer has created significant momentum for the Alliance’s goal of providing access to reasonably priced, healthy, fresh food and helping to eradicate the so-called “food dessert” that New Brunswick had become, according to NJPHK-New Brunswick Project Manager Fatimah Williams Castro, Ph.D., member and former chair of the NBCFA operations committee. “This is a major step forward in an ongoing process that must be sustained if we’re going to be successful in equalizing the food landscape for all New Brunswick residents.”

 The idea for the Alliance started with Nurgül Fitzgerald, Ph.D., R.D., Rutgers professor of nutritional science, who was awarded a USDA grant to help address issues related to hunger in the community and reduce the need for emergency food delivery. With support from NJPHK-New Brunswick and a diverse grassroots contingent of community partners including businesses, non-profits, education and residents, NBCFA is making tremendous progress addressing food issues from a multitude of perspectives, including Healthy Food Access, Community Engagement, Food Economic Development, Advocacy and Policy and Agriculture.

 Given that NJPHK strives to strengthen childhood obesity prevention strategies supporting access to affordable, healthy foods and increasing opportunities for safe physical activity, it’s working collaboratively to reinforce the Alliance’s efforts, provide guidance, and bring resources to the table whenever possible, especially as they relate to children. One example of NJPHK’s support is the training it provided to an NBCFA workgroup on implementing a Healthy Corner Store Initiative based on a model from The Food Trust. To build on the access to fresh food that The Fresh Grocer is creating, the Corner Store program is aimed at helping businesses located in school zones—where students often shop—understand how to stock and profitably promote healthier foods, so that kids are more likely to purchase these items, rather than snacks that are high in fat, sugar, or salt.

 While it’s still early in the Alliance’s existence, there have been quite a few significant achievements, says Williams Castro “We’re quite proud of the work being done by our members to address some very serious health challenges in New Brunswick. Due to our successes, I’ve spoken with people from many other New Jersey communities who are watching with great interest. Our hope is that the Alliance becomes a model for other communities to make their food systems more equitable, and to make healthy food affordable and accessible to all residents.”

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