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Gimme Five: Pamela Hess


This week, we connected with Pamela Hess, Executive Director of the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture, an organization that works to create a more equitable and sustainable local food system in the Washington, D.C. area. Read on to learn more about Arcadia’s four distinct programs, and get to know the Leader behind the organization. Connect with Pamela to learn more or collaborate through her profile here.

Name: Pamela Hess
Title: Executive Director
Organization: Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture

What inspired you to start working on childhood obesity?

I started working with Arcadia in March 2013, and our mission is about changing the local food system to be both more equitable and sustainable. Low income neighborhoods are short-changed by the food system when it comes to healthy food, so they are far more likely to experience obesity and all the chronic diseases associated with it.

The front line for us on that is our Mobile Market, a rolling farm stand that makes regular weekly stops in neighborhoods that are not served by traditional groceries or farmers markets. Consequently, the food environment in these neighborhoods is awash in cheap, unhealthy convenience foods that are devastating in terms of public health. But if we do our job right, we can change that for everyone―block by block.

How are you helping to reverse childhood obesity?

We are changing the food environment for the most at-risk kids. Arcadia makes first quality, sustainably grown local healthy foods affordable and convenient in neighborhoods that don’t otherwise have access via our Mobile Markets. The Mobile Markets made regular weekly stops in 18 neighborhoods last summer. We accept and double SNAP, WIC and Senior FMNP vouchers, so our customers can afford twice as much healthy food as they would otherwise.

We are helping people learn the culinary skills and confidence they need to feed themselves and their families well and on a budget. Arcadia teaches people and inspires them to cook from scratch through cooking demos, cooking lessons and our beautiful cookbook that we give out free to all of our customers who use federal nutrition benefits. We work closely with WIC mothers especially, since they are the ones most likely to be feeding children.

We are building the taste and demand for healthy food in schoolchildren. We have a robust educational program at our Alexandria farm for children that turns them on to fruits and veggies, gives them basic cooking skills and encourages them to try lots of new foods that they might not get at home. They run around, dig, turn compost, harvest and – because we are chemical free – they can simply brush off the dirt and eat the food right on the spot. Kids are far more willing to try new foods – and like them – when they harvest them themselves. We are helping build their palates to love healthy food and they go home and ask their parents to buy it and cook it.

What’s your biggest accomplishment so far in helping reduce childhood obesity?

We’ve brought more than 3,600 kids to the farm so far for more than 10,000 hours of educational time during field trips. All of them get a chance to explore, pick and eat fresh healthy food, and anecdotally we know from parents and guardians that the kids go home much more willing to eat their veggies. And 25 percent of our farm camp slots are reserved for children from families who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to send them to camp. We raise money for the scholarships to cover the costs.

And in each of the last three Mobile Market season our sales in low-income neighborhoods have increased by 50 percent – that’s a massive rate of growth – and it proves that our customers really want good quality food. But it has to be affordable and convenient.

Who is your role model in your work?

Every member of Arcadia’s small staff: Each of them is so good at what they do and bring very special and different talents and skills to their job. I learn something from them every day.

Food and health is quite new territory for me professionally, I was a journalist for 20 years and covered national security. So I need all the help I can get.

 What game or sport did you play growing up?

I was a competitive swimmer from age 4 through high school, and loved dancing ballet. We also just ran around the neighborhood with a pack of kids, playing massive games of hide and seek. I was famous (on my block, anyway) for swinging up into trees like Tarzan to escape. I have long arms.

 Each week, our own Prarthana Gurung speaks with a Leader to get a quick look at why he or she loves working to create healthy environments for kids. Want to take part?Visit Prarthana’s profile and contact her.