Plan to bring farm-fresh food to juvenile detention could shape policy across County

July 18, 2019

Staff at the Donald E. Long juvenile detention center deliver more than 30,000 meals a year to the teens in their care. The facility’s Courtyard Cafe serves an additional 120 employees and guests each day, and the cafe delivers platters and buffets to events and meetings.

Farmers Arthur Shavers and Shantae Johnson, left, joined the County's Tameka Brazile, Charlene McGee and Kimberly Pidcoke

But those youth, staff and guests might soon notice a change on their plates. If all goes as planned, the standard beefsteak tomatoes and shredded lettuce trucked across state lines by Sysco will give way to the heirloom tomatoes and Lacinato kale grown 18 miles away at Mudbone Grown Farm in Corbett.

Multnomah County’s Department of Community Justice this spring teamed up with the Health Department program Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health — REACH — to propose sweeping changes to the detention center’s food procurement guidelines to favor organic produce grown by local farmers. 

This month they submitted their action plan to the National Association of County and City Health Officials. That group sponsors a national event called the Food Service Guidelines Local Action Institute, which brings together technical experts from around the country and helped propel the County’s work.  

“I would love to see locally raised food served in juvenile detention, and to partner with local farmers,” said Kimberly Pidcoke, nutrition services manager at Donald E Long. ”There’s a lot of room for improvement.”

Pidcoke was part of a Multnomah County team invited to Washington D.C. to participate in the national institute. She was joined by REACH Program Manager Charlene McGee, Prevention & Health Promotion Director Tameka Brazile, and Mudbone Grown farmers Shantae Johnson and Arthur Shavers.

“I really enjoyed the conference, the examples of work across the nation,” said Johnson. “One exciting thing that got Arthur fired up was the chance to provide good food to youth and to then support them in community. We have to have a place for our food to go, and we can support other Black farmers. We’re building on this concept of farm to institution.”

The proposal begins with updating nutrition standards and identifying healthier food procurement standards for the juvenile facility, as well as its cafe and catering program. Donald E. Long would establish a partnership with Mudbone Grown to source local produce and invite youth to programs that teach farming and culinary skills. After leaving custody, some youth would have the opportunity to intern at Mudbone Grown, in addition to established programs such as the Hands of Wonder farm program and the Culinary Arts Program at the Courtyard Cafe.

“We’re trying to focus on prevention and look at the economic, health and social environment,” said Brazile. “I’m excited about the economic component of this — building on what is learned in the facility and connecting youth when they’re out.”

Brazile said the County’s Public Health Division is developing broader recommendations for the Multnomah County Board of Health on healthy food procurement. “This could be a model for how to create those recommendations,” she said.

The potential reach across similar County programs is wide. 

Beyond feeding people in custody, the County supports congregate meals for people living with HIV and for seniors, summer lunch programs for youth and their families, food pantries, and food programs for health center clients. 

The County’s two adult jails served a combined 1.2 million meals in the 2018 fiscal year. The county’s Aging, Disability & Veterans Services Division provided 537,379 meals during that time. And the county’s Child & Family Hunger Relief program provided 1,408,603 meals through summer meals, emergency food programs, and the Multnomah Child Hunger Coalition.

“This is an opportunity to improve food policy in our County, to look at how we can leverage our buying power to promote healthy standards,” said McGee, REACH’s program manager.

REACH is a program funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address health disparities among Black and African American communities, which experience disproportionate rates of chronic disease. Of the leading causes of death in the County, most are related to chronic disease. 

“Stress has a great impact, and that’s coupled with these other factors. Part of it is looking at how to change eating patterns by introducing better options that are culturally appealing,” she said. “These policies can help the county achieve multiple goals, around economic development, job creation, and health.”