Reflections on Northwest Colorado Community Food Assessment and Guidelines for Conducting a Focus Group

With this specific food assessment, I appreciate what all of us will be doing even more. Essentially, this assessment will teach us life-long skills that each of us can take with us, and more immediately, it will serve to improve the lives of the residents of three Georgia counties.  That is my intent and my goal at least.  The Northwest Colorado Community (NCC) strikes at the heart of the need by asking directly if the policies in place are meeting the fruit and vegetable consumption needs of the residents.  (p. 3).  I observe and I am affected by such economic policies that determine if healthy foods are available and affordable.  The NCC finds that the answer is yes, the healthy options are available, and no, they are not affordable.  If further engagement in the NCC communities and the communities that we will be studying is possible, educating those communities about the importance of healthy eating and realistically rationing their limited economic and food resources is a possible reality.

Faced with dietary restrictions, whether based on spiritual practice, a diet based upon non-animal products, or a diet based upon health hazards (gluten-free, nut-free, etc.), I have hardly considered that programs such as this consider such limitations or are even aware of them.  Local hospitals and local churches hardly seem to consider these, but maybe programs such as these are the first step to larger societal evolution.  This actually makes me hopeful that we can make a difference in our study.

The study also takes a serious look at access to transportation and the number of grocery stores in rural areas.  While I agree that access to retail outlets is important, I am encouraged from the anarchist practices of some rural residents who barter and exchange, rely on the local environment, farmers’ markets, and personal gardens to do much more than survive.  This active and creative participation in the local food environment will encourage such questions in our focus groups to determine what physical resources as well as creative resources are available.  However, the ambition to increase dietary fruits and vegetables and decrease obesity is only a desire without making the fruits and vegetables palatable with proper education and conditioning that teaches residents and leaders about the benefits of fresh vegetables as well as the dangers of processed foods.  This will also be my goal if possible. I would also like to see a farm to school initiative, which may be in place in the three counties we will be studying since I am familiar with this program in Atlanta.

I agree with the thoroughness of the assessment where community insecurity, food assistance programs, food choices and shopping habits, and overall household food insecurity are scrutinized, but I don’t necessarily agree that a significant source of that information come completely from executive directors and leaders of food pantries and social help organizations.  It would have been better to survey only some of these organizations as well as a representative cross-section of the residents themselves to get a realistic picture of what the residents needs are.  It would have helped to speak more at length with several residents if they would have been willing to talk.  Speaking with leaders and executive directors who must answer to a board of directors or overseers does not necessarily give the reader an accurate picture.

While I have never conducted or organized a focus group, I participated in one several years ago.  Given my interest in small group propaganda, the idea of conducting focus groups is exciting, intriguing, and challenging especially where it will help several communities in the long run.  As I stated above, I believe that it will be important to include residents more than business owners and leaders of social help agencies, unless the questions that are asked point directly to a more activist nature of improving the availability of healthy more fresh food options. This could be done in such a way that certain questions are asked before speaking with residents and after speaking with residents. I am brainstorming here but this is something I would like to consider.

Sources:

Live Well Northwest, Northwest Colorado Community Food Assessment:  Understanding the FoodEnvironment, Policies, and Programs that Affect Healthy Food Access. Route County, CO, July 2013.

Eliot and Associates, Guidelines for Conducting a Focus Group. 2005.

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