Wednesday, October 19, 2011

First Lady Michelle Obama Will Spotlight "Food Deserts" During Visit To Chicago

Let's Move! with Mayor Emanuel: First Lady will hold "summit" with US mayors to discuss food access issues, visit upgraded Walgreens store, tour urban farm...
UPDATE , Oct. 25: CLICK HERE for a full post about the summit
As part of her campaign to end childhood obesity, First Lady Michelle Obama has pledged to eradicate "food deserts"--areas where there is low or no access to healthy food--from the US by 2017. The East Wing on Wednesday night released a partial schedule for Mrs. Obama's Tuesday, Oct. 25th trip to Chicago, where she will join Mayor Rahm Emanuel for a series of events focused on the topic. It is Mrs. Obama's first trip to her hometown in which she will hold public events as First Lady, and she will tour two model projects and meet with Mayors invited from across the US for a "summit" on food access and affordability. Emanuel announced the visit over the weekend. (Above: Mrs. Obama visiting a Philadelphia supermarket in 2010, as she unveiled the Healthy Food Financing Initiative)

Traveling with Mrs. Obama to Chicago will be members of her Let's Move! team, including Executive Director Dr. Judy Palfrey and the mastermind behind the campaign, Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass. Like Mrs. Obama, Kass is a Chicago native, and worked on local food policy initiatives while he was the Obamas' private chef during the years when President Obama was a US Senator. UPDATE, Oct. 24: The East Wing announced that Mrs. Obama will attend a campaign fundraiser at 12:55 PM in Detroit before arriving in Chicago for the food desert summit.

The schedule of events...
"Mayors from across the country will be gathered in Chicago for a mayoral summit where they will share best practices and explore new strategies that leaders can implement to support communities that lack the food they need," noted the East Wing. The list of Mayors has not been released.

At 2:45 PM, "Mrs. Obama and the mayors will visit a Walgreens that was expanded to include produce and other basic grocery staples," according to the East Wing, where the First Lady "will be delivering the closing remarks for a mayoral summit on access to healthy, affordable food."

Walgreens, headquartered in Chicago, is the largest pharmacy chain in the US. In July, Mrs. Obama announced that Walgreens, as well as SUPERVALU, Walmart and independent regional retailers will be opening or expanding more than 1,500 stores to serve approximately 9.5 million people in communities that currently lack access to healthy and affordable foods, including fruits and vegetables.

Walgreens executives are expected to announce on Tuesday that the chain will be sponsoring farmers markets at various locations, a project that the East Wing has been working on for months. The store Mrs. Obama will visit "is one of 10 prototype stores that helped launch Walgreens’ commitment," said the East Wing.

At 3:50 PM, "Mrs. Obama and Mayor Emanuel will visit Iron Street Urban Farms, a 7-acre site on Chicago’s south side that produces local, healthy, and sustainable food year-round," according to the East Wing. Iron Street is the Chicago headquarters for Growing Power, an urban farm and agriculture consultancy located in Milwaukee, WI.

Founder and CEO Will Allen is considered one of the world's leading experts on urban agriculture and food access. He joined Mrs. Obama at the White House in February of 2010 for the formal launch of the Let's Move! campaign. Walmart, the largest private-sector partner for Mrs. Obama's Let's Move! campaign, awarded Allen a $1 million grant in September.

Iron Street "hires local residents to learn about and work on the land, and sells to local restaurants and markets," noted the East Wing.

The Healthy Food Financing Initiative...
Also traveling to Chicago with Mrs. Obama will be HHS’s Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Howard Koh, and Matt Josephs with the US Department of Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, which has made grants of $25 million to food desert projects under the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), a fund that finances grocery markets and other food-access projects. IFF, a Chicago-based non-profit lender, was one of the awardees, and received a $3 million grant.

The East Wing noted that "in February 2010, Mrs. Obama traveled to Philadelphia where she announced the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, a multi-million dollar public and private investment fund to improve access to healthy food. The President’s 2012 Budget proposes funding for the multi-year initiative to increase the availability of affordable, healthy foods in underserved urban and rural communities."

The Administration has requested $330 million in funding for FY2012. Congress declined to fund the HFFI for FY 2010 and FY 2011.

Emanuel, inaugurated as Mayor last May, ran on a platform that included components of Mrs. Obama's childhood obesity campaign. Chicago is one of more than 550 municipalities in the US that have joined Let's Move Cities and Towns, an initiative that encourages leaders to adopt Mrs. Obama's campaign citywide. This summer, Emanuel convened a meeting of grocery CEOS in Chicago to discuss food deserts.

After her day of food policy events, Mrs. Obama will headline a fund-raiser for the President's 2012 re-election campaign in the evening. It will be held at Plumbers Hall.

*White House photo.

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