Opinion: Focus Groups and FRP Ignite Food Insecurity Discussions in Pinellas County

14 Feb 2020 10:00 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

Julie Rocco, of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Pete, lead a "Food for Thought" focus group in St. Petersburg in November, 2019.

By Wendy Wesley

When a diverse group of St. Petersburg residents were asked to name the greatest barriers to an equitable, resilient and regenerative food system, their answers had less to do with food and more to do with people.

“1. Lack of interest in government leadership”
“2. Gentrification”
“3. Racism”

“4. Lack of funds/resources for business/lack of owned land”
“5. Community buy-in. People don’t know there is a problem”

These answers, collected in November at the Enoch Davis Center in St. Petersburg, are from one of a series of county-wide conversations regarding food insecurity and food deserts called “Food for Thought.” The focus groups were organized by The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg.

The conversations were timely as St. Petersburg’s Mayor Rick Kriseman announced Dec. 10 a new request for proposal for Tangerine Plaza, which is the site of the shuttered Walmart and Sweetbay grocery stores.

Kriseman stated the RFPs for the site must include a fresh food option.

The Foundation’s stated mission, “to end differences in health due to social or structural disadvantages to improve population health,” makes them the proper group to hold discussions about nutrition equity in Pinellas.

Residents from St. Petersburg, Lealman, Clearwater and Palm Harbor participated in the focus groups, and an online survey was available. Opinions, thoughts and ideas on creating an equitable, resilient and regenerative community-based food system were sought through a series of thoughtful questions posed by Foundation staff.

The second question, “what is the most effective current activity or intervention,” yielded answers that reflected the diverse makeup of the audience as many from the Youth Farm at Enoch Davis were in attendance.

“1. Youth Farm”
“2.  Saturday Morning Market”
“3. SNAP”
“4. One Community Grocery Co-Op”
“5. Food Banks”

Lastly, Foundation staff asked participants to offer their “boldest idea our community should activate,” which sparked creative and innovative ideas and discussions. Some of these included financial incentives for non-profit co-ops; food policy standards written by citizens; discounts for healthier food and elevating the status and professionalism of farmers.

Access to affordable and nutritious food, like the ZIP code, is a social determinant to health and should be top priority for local and county government, human service funders and providers of health care.

This focus group exercise and the mayor’s announcement for the Tangerine Plaza RFP are exciting next steps in addressing a major missing piece to health equity on south St. Pete, where two USDA-designated food deserts exist.

Stakeholder input collected during the conversation will be compiled and showcased at a larger community-based food system gathering hosted by the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg in February 2020.  

Wendy Wesley is a licensed and registered clinical dietitian/nutritionist who works to improve the health of the community. She provides free public health education, individual nutrition counseling and advocacy for access to nutritious foods in her hometown of St. Petersburg. 

Disclaimer: The views of the writers do not represent the views of the Florida Food Policy Council. We are a forum for the offering and sharing of information and encourage diversity and communication within the food system.

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