Food for Thought: Community Health Academy Educates Leaders About Food Systems

National food systems analyst and expert Ken Meter shared data about Idaho and the five counties represented at the Community Health Academy.

When the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health launched the Community Health Academy through its High Five initiative in 2017, the goal was to educate mayors and their staff about a variety of topics to help them become even greater champions for community health.

Mayors from five cities — American Falls, Cascade, Grace, McCall and Rathdrum — were invited to the 2019 Community Health Academy to learn from experts, including food systems analyst Ken Meter. Ken has more than 45 years of experience in community capacity building and his economic analyses have promoted local food networks in 40 states, two provinces and three Tribal nations. He is a consultant to the USDA and EPA and also provided expert commentary in the 2012 HBO documentary “Weight of the Nation.”

Ken, who is based in Minneapolis, provided thought-provoking insight into food systems and gave the attendees ideas they can explore to see if they would work in their communities.

“This definitely sparked ideas for different projects that we can do,” Cascade Mayor Judith Nissula said.

At the core of his presentation was food systems. Ken says there are four things that healthy food systems should create:

  1. 1. Health (food should help keep people healthy)
  2. 2. Wealth (farmers should be able to make a living growing)
  3. 3. Connection (food should bring a community together)
  4. 4. Capacity (food systems should teach people skills to farm, garden, how to cook, etc.)

Meter also provided ideas that small communities can do to improve their food systems, such as write policies that protect farmland, encourage citizens to buy local and building a community kitchen, and more.

“I came away with a lot of great ideas,” said Kristen Jensen, who is on the American Falls City Council. “Now I have more perspective and am looking forward to implementing some of these things.”

This is what partcipants in the Community Health Academy session with Ken Meter hoped to accomplish.

Erin Greaves, communications manager for McCall, pointed out that the academy provided a lot of answers. Prior to the session with Ken, participants were asked what they wanted to get out of the session and a list was created.

“It looks like accomplished all of those things,” she said.

Ken, who has presented at the Community Health Academy the past two years, enjoyed the dialogue and engagement.

“I’ve been impressed with the two meetings I’ve been at,” he said. “The discussions are very real. The people are talking earnestly about the things they will do and want to do. They’re trying to collaborate on better approaches, and that’s really fun to be a part of.”

Each mayor who successfully completes the Community Health Academy earns a $10,000 grant that can be used to fund a project that promotes physical activity or access to healthy foods for kids.