ImproveSF.org and the Tenderloin/Central Market Fresh Food Challenge

ImproveSF.org and the Tenderloin/Central Market Fresh Food Challenge

The Mayor’s office is looking for great ideas to make San Francisco better. This website – ImproveSF.org – is looking for ideas and collaboration on a variety of issues. We are interested in the challenges around increasing access to fresh produce and strategies for improving the storage and cooking capabilities of neighborhood residents.

We posted an idea in short form on the website, see our full idea below. Then, log on and join the conversation!

Central Market/Tenderloin Fresh Food Challenge

Posted on www.improvesf.org/food-access-challenge

Heart of the City is affordable and EBT-friendly. In the Tenderloin alone, the San Francisco Food Bank provides fresh produce at 40 different sites each week. Leah’s Pantry runs multi-session Food Smarts cooking and nutrition workshops on a regular basis in this neighborhood, usually at SRO properties and homeless shelters. Our classes deal with the challenges of SROs and limited food access head-on through recipes, discussions, and strategies gleaned from the residents themselves. We work closely with the SFFB to help residents use the produce they receive through the local food pantries, and we have started to work directly with HOTC to do outreach directly to our workshop participants. We also have a formerly homeless Tenderloin resident co-facilitate our classes in these neighborhoods. Funding for this program is currently very strong thanks to a SNAP-Ed grant from the USDA/FNS.

Despite these well-coordinated efforts, we find that in addition to storage and limited kitchen facilities, residents often also lack interest in cooking nutritious meals in the first place. And this is feedback from residents who voluntarily attend the cooking and nutrition classes hosted by their housing provider! We do find that after several weeks of a workshop, 90% make positive changes to their diet and are empowered to try new things. But many residents would never consider going out of their way to learn more about cooking and nutrition. These residents are very difficult to reach.

It’s important to take into account the tremendous diversity in these neighborhoods. In addition to almost 30 different languages spoken, the residents are made up of immigrants, seniors, mentally and physically disabled, addicts, and over 3,500 children and their families. Residents don’t necessarily have much in common with teach other, except for the extreme stress of urban poverty. Also, residents are often skeptical of people trying to solve their problems for them. A quick services search on a data site like healthycity.org will show that this area is blanketed with social service organizations. There are resources everywhere. But so many residents don’t feel empowered to make changes – either they don’t know what to do, they don’t have time to consider a change, or they lack an understanding that their physical and mental wellness is directly tied to what foods they consume.

So what do we propose as a solution? A technology and marketing strategy for resident, store owner, and CBO engagement which seeks to collect, highlight, and disseminate specific healthy behaviors.

We believe there is potential for a solution that includes:
A strong marketing effort to individual residents, business owners, and CBOs working in this neighborhood. This marketing effort would include a simple “brand” (logo, tagline, print ads) that indicates a commitment to the health and wellness of the community. Individuals could become health promoters through their behaviors and their engagement of fellow residents. The Network for a Healthy California’s Champion Moms strategy is similar. Store owners could be identified by their commitment to include nutrient-dense nonperishables, fruits, vegetables or patio gardening supplies to their offerings. Service organizations, housing providers, child care centers, and schools who make a commitment to training their staff and clients in cooking and nutrition could receive the designation as well. Billboards and bus stops could highlight individuals making a difference and encourage residents to share positive individual behaviors via text (or other medium, see below). Materials would be multi-lingual and submissions could be collected in any language.

A collaborative group behind this branding effort. Collaborative could create the brand and marketing materials, set objectives and specific behaviors it is looking to witness, and provide structure to the program going forward. Collaborative would include:

  • Residents
  • CBOs and housing providers
  • Small business owners
  • Human Services and DPH
  • Child care providers and schools
  • San Francisco Food Bank
  • HOTC Farmer’s Market
  • Education organizations (like Leah’s Pantry)
  • Technology companies headquartered in the area

Cutting-edge technology solutions. In March 2012, almost 40% of CalFresh (Food Stamp) applications were submitted online in San Francisco. Mobile phone penetration is very high in these neighborhoods and residents use text messages frequently. San Francisco already has grant money to develop a nutrition and cooking website targeted at CalFresh customers (which is tied directly to the benefits website). There is an opportunity here to leverage existing funding and the expertise of local tech companies who are already interested in improving the health of the neighborhood.
Individuals would be encouraged (by local ads, schools, and CBOs) to send a text to a number when they make a healthy choice or discover a great strategy for staying healthy in the neighborhood. Examples:

  • a photo of a recipe they have created
  • their kids eating fruit
  • walking with friends
  • their commitment to giving up soda or candy, etc.
  • cleaning up and using an existing community kitchen
  • organizing a potluck or food swap with friends or neighbors
  • success at lowering their BMI, reducing their risk of diabetes, or lowering their blood pressure


  • Store owners who meet the designation described above could advertise or promote their new products via the text (or email) network.
  • The collaborative could have a snapshot of what is happening on the ground.
  • Free cooking workshops, mini-recipes, great tips (from the residents themselves), walking groups, and other promotions could go out via text or email blasts.
  • Case workers could encourage their clients to text and email their positive behaviors.
  • Leah’s Pantry and the SFFB would also encourage residents to text their behaviors during Pantry to Plate demos and Food Smarts classes.
  • Incentives for participation – slow cookers, rice cookers, produce storage bins for their SRO, tokens or 2-for-1 coupons at HOTC, jump ropes for their kids, planting supplies (we have found that very small incentives actually go a very long way).