[The Pasadena Citizen]

Not accepting the status quo.

That was one of the messages during a presentation of a Sustainable Food System initiative last week at city hall.

Speakers representing a coalition of partners, including the Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services, Houston Food Bank, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Healthy Living Matters, have joined the city of Pasadena in bringing the initiative to the community, were on hand at Pasadena’s City Hall to introduce the Sustainable Food System.

Improving Health Through a Sustainable Food System will develop a community-supported system in north Pasadena in what is part of a national effort to eliminate conditions which hinder accessibility to adequate food. It is one of seven projects awarded a $250,000 implementation grant from the BUILD Health Challenge in community health efforts funded by The Advisory Board Company, the de Beaumont Foundation, the Colorado Health Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“We are about to embark on a project that is a true game changer, totally outside the box and hasn’t been done in the state of Texas,” said Rocaille Roberts, director of office of police and planning for Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services.

Health happens, she said, outside the four walls of a clinic or hospital. Pasadena is one of 17 communities throughout the U.S. in which this initiative will take root.

“It happens where we live, where we work, play and worship,” she said. “As diverse as these communities are there is one thing they all have in common, and that is that we just do not accept the status quo.”

High rates of obesity in children and adults throughout Harris County, she said, is an issue that is not about looks, but health: the increased risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and shorter life spans.

In Pasadena, since 2014, a community task force has been meeting monthly to mobilize the initiative.

In March, the Indoor Harvest Corps, a design build contractor and developer of commercial grade acroponic and hydroponic fixtures for controlled agricultural systems, announced the signing of a LOI with the city of Pasadena to fund and establish vertical farms (indoor agricultural facilities) in Pasadena.

Through a partnership between IHC and the city of Pasadena, the CLARA project will be divided into two phases: the development of a 6,000 sq ft vertical farm facility and 6,000 sq ft of classroom and office space; phase two: the support of commercial retail operation with a greenhouse built on approximately two acres of land adjacent to the vertical farm and education facility.

The city of Pasadena will develop and is expected to present plans for the projected campus facility in August.

“We are very excited to have this project happening in our area,” Karen Taylor, who chairs the School Health Advisory Council for the Pasadena Independent School District. “It’s our first step in having some major options to our children and their families. The gardening will provide access to fresh vegetables that people can’t afford or have access to.”

Jennifer Hadayia, of HCPHES, said that access is the key driving the initiative’s goals.

“The hope here is to create a healthy, sustainable, affordable, accessible and complete food system,” she said. “That’s the ultimate goal, but long-term, it’s making it possible for people to get access to healthy food. With access to healthy food comes a world of change. That world of change means that people can eat healthier life-long and avoid diet-related health concerns that have been a concern not only for Pasadena and Harris County but across the country.”