What is FiSP?
Growing Community, Health, and Food in Sacred Places (FiSP) is an innovative program of Partners for Sacred Places that connects congregations with health experts nationwide to foster:
- conveniently located health and nutrition programming
- widespread access to fresh, ethically-grown food; clean, safe, greenspaces; entrepreneurship opportunities; and health care
- a sustainable infrastructure to affordably feed our community
To execute this mission, we:
- provide intensive support to congregations seeking to license their facilities as shared kitchens
- act as matchmakers and facilitators for partnerships between congregations and nutrition, health, and environmental professionals
- maintain a database of information on food justice/ health organizations and sacred places for anyone interested in connecting
- provide tools such as training, documentation, budget and legal assistance
- seek to influence food- and environmental-justice policy at a local and national level
The Need and the Opportunity
Access to healthy food is vital. Yet despite this basic need, an overwhelming number of low-income families, in both rural and urban America, are disconnected from food systems that would provide them with affordable and nutritious food in convenient and culturally appropriate ways. According to a 2009 USDA report, 23.5 million people in the U.S. live in a low-income area located more than one mile from a supermarket. Studies conducted by The Food Trust, a food-justice nonprofit, indicate that lack of access to affordable, fresh food is, “negatively associated with low-income residents’ health and economic well-being.” Community members who must, “travel outside of their neighborhoods to purchase food or shop at smaller corner and convenience stores,” generally encounter, “lower-quality food, limited fresh choices, and substantially higher prices.”
As this data suggests, location is everything. For many citizens, the most readily available food is often highly processed foods found at corner stores and fast-food outlets. As a result, an increasing number of low-income individuals suffer devastating health effects ranging from excess weight gain and obesity to diabetes and hypertension. Disadvantaged populations rarely seek out nutrition education or disease self-management programs that are not centrally located and easily accessible. To address this growing health epidemic, Partners has developed a model to allow sacred places to be further activated as sites of nutrition, health, and environmental education by advocating and supporting nutrition and lifestyle changes. In many cases, these sacred places are de facto community centers that already act as a forum for health education.
Through our conversations with environmental organizations, health centers, food justice groups and faith communities, we have seen a clear sense of shared purpose. Supported by a strong theological framework, many faith leaders honor the relationship between caring for their congregations and care of the land and understand the connection between stewardship and environmental, social, and economic justice. At the same time, nutrition, farming, and greening organizations are engaging, mobilizing, and organizing people to improve access to community health. Recognizing this alignment in community and congregational vision, Growing Community, Health, and Food in Sacred Places intertwines theology, ecology and food justice to promote a renewed sense of environmental stewardship and how such stewardship supports a sustainable food system.
Partners’ Solution and the FiSP Program
In response to the critical need for affordable, nutritious, available food as well as nutrition education, Partners provides a key value in its role as an umbrella organization, uniting congregations for greater impact through its position as a trusted facilitator. Partners currently acts as a liaison between health, nutrition, and environmental organizations and interested congregations, providing both parties with potential partnership options, project development assistance, and the training needed to enact these transformative programs. Depending on the assets of each sacred space, congregations have opportunities to join forces with other groups on a range of initiatives such as:
- growing food on their outdoor green space
- presenting community programs such as cooking or nutrition classes in their kitchens and social halls
- hosting environmental education events, entrepreneurship opportunities, farmers’ markets, incubator kitchens, community supported agriculture programs, or clinics on their premises
- acting as a convener for food-justice and environmental activists
The individualized partnership structure of the Growing Community, Health, and Food in Sacred Places program offers a mosaic of initiatives to change food and environmental systems and, ultimately, build upon each congregation’s mission and vision. Through this innovative method, Growing Community, Health, and Food in Sacred Places is fostering successful partnerships in sacred places across Philadelphia with food justice organizations such as The Food Trust, Urban Tree Connection, and the Philadelphia Orchard Project.