Henry Ford Health System Food Navigators build better nutrition in Wayne and Macomb counties

This article is part of Stories of Change, a series of inspirational articles of the people who deliver evidence-based programs and strategies that empower communities to eat healthy and move more. It is made possible with funding from Michigan Fitness Foundation.

Like their counterparts across the state, Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) Farmers Market Food Navigators help shoppers get the most out of their food dollars when purchasing fresh, healthy foods for their families at their local farmers markets.

Food Navigators give personalized tours, introduce shoppers to the farmers that grow their food, and provide information on food assistance programs available at the market. They also share cooking tips and recipes, and strategies that explore new ways to include more seasonal fruits and vegetables in meals and snacks. HFHS has Food Navigators at Dodge Park Farmers Market and the Mount Clemens Farmers Market in Macomb County, and at Northwest Detroit Farmers Market, Hope Village Farmers Market, and Community Health and Social Services Farmers Market in Wayne County.

“This year has been a year like no other, coming out from the pandemic. We all realized what a spotlight has been shone on the health of the community,” says Jill Yore, director of faith and community health at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital. “Being able to have an impact on people and help them make healthier choices has been so rewarding and has such far-reaching impact.”

The Food Navigator program at HFHS was developed by Michigan Fitness Foundation (MFF) and is made possible through MFF Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) funding. MFF is a State Implementing Agency of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for the education component of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP-Ed is an education program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that teaches people eligible for SNAP how to live healthier lives. MFF offers grants to conduct SNAP-Ed programming throughout the state of Michigan.

Amanda Krieg, a registered dietitian with HFHS, is the Food Navigator at the Dodge Park Farmers Market. She especially enjoys sharing her passion for healthy food choices with families while helping them make the most of their food assistance dollars.

Amanda Krieg.
“I walk people around the market and show them what they can purchase and what they can do with the specific foods — a tomato, a radish, or a vegetable that they have never seen before,” Krieg says. “I also share tips and tricks on how to pick out fresh produce to reduce food waste, which is a concern with a limited food budget.”

When shopping on a tight budget, wasting food is not an option. In fact, it’s one reason why many families choose foods with long shelf lives and forego fresh fruits and vegetables. Food Navigators talk with people about how to select and store fresh foods to make them last longer, and how to prepare them so the whole family will want to eat them. Food Navigators also connect shoppers to resources that stretch their food budgets – like Double Up Food Bucks, WIC, and Senior Project FRESH/Market FRESH coupons. Food Navigators also share Michigan Harvest of the Month recipes and cooking demonstration videos with shoppers so they have the resources they need to make meals using fresh, seasonal produce.

HFHS Farmers Market Food Navigators Amanda Krieg and Emma Shepherd at the Mt. Clemens Farmers Market.
“Through this work, I’ve learned there are a lot of people who don’t have the tools they need to prepare most meals at home — like knives to chop with or stoves to cook on,” Krieg says. “We come up with creative ways to help them prepare fruits and vegetables with the limited materials they have so they can eat healthier.”

Krieg also works hard at building relationships with shoppers, making new market shoppers feel more comfortable, and having deeper conversations with those she has come to know, with the goal of helping them get even more from their healthy food choices.

“They definitely tell me that they are trying new fruits and vegetables throughout the market season. They also tell me they are trying new ways to prepare fresh produce for their family to enjoy,” Krieg says. “It’s also awesome to see people willing to open up more about using food assistance benefits like SNAP. It is important to reduce the stigma. We want to do everything we can to make sure people feel comfortable and welcome when using their food assistance benefits at the farmers market.”

Krieg also has worked hard to build relationships between shoppers and market vendors. In addition to making introductions, HFHS has created a weekly video series spotlighting local vendors and the produce they'll have available at the market. People can watch the videos on the Dodge Park Farmers Market social media page and/or when they receive the video link in their email newsletters.

“We got feedback that the videos have been helpful for people to streamline their shopping," Krieg says. "When we highlight a certain vegetable, it’s usually bought pretty quickly.”

While the increased sales help market vendors, the goal of the videos is to help improve community health by encouraging people to purchase and eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. The videos are produced for shoppers at the Dodge Park Farmers Market, though Krieg says the series has helped increase local produce sales at all the other farmers markets served by HFHS Food Navigators.

"Our shoppers often stop by and share how they used a recipe they saw on social media the week before,” shares HFHS Food Navigator Emma Shepherd, who serves the Mount Clemens Farmers Market. “Building relationships with the shoppers extends beyond the market now. With social media, it makes it possible for us to interact more, provide more tips, and continue our positive conversations about food with the people we serve outside market hours.”

Emma Shepherd.
By highlighting where produce comes from; the benefits of fresh, local foods; and how to choose, store, and prepare fresh produce, the videos help community members feel comfortable purchasing more vegetables and fruit — and they inspire them to try new produce they had not tried in the past.

“It really gives them confidence when they go to the market,” Krieg says. “The importance of buying local and buying produce from local farmers has really hit home for some people. The videos have been eye-opening to the community and a huge positive in my eyes.”

In 2020, Krieg and her video team released 12 videos. This summer, they plan on producing 16 more. While the videos originated as a way to keep communities connected to their farmers markets during the pandemic, the positive response has inspired HFHS to continue the series.

“Technology has helped us to pull in people that we would not have been able to in other ways,” Yore says. “From a manager’s perspective, it gives us such a greater way of showing people what we do. If you weren’t at the market to interact with the Food Navigator, it’s hard to grasp what happens there. With the videos, you can interact virtually. The videos have also given us an opportunity to share our work with our stakeholders, to show what we’re providing the community. They can be used in a number of ways that we haven’t even put to use yet.”
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.