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Natural Awakenings Philadelphia

Women Rising: Yael Lehmann

May 01, 2017 03:17PM ● By Kimberly Murray and Martin Miron

Yael Lehmann serves as executive director of The Food Trust, which strives to make healthy food available to all. Their work has been recognized by former First Lady Michelle Obama and described by Time magazine as a “remarkable success” for increasing the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in schools and reducing the number of students becoming overweight by 50 percent. The Food Trust has been the recipient of many national and local awards and named one of the top two high-impact nonprofits in America working in field of health and childhood nutrition by Philanthropedia.

Yael is a frequent speaker on food access issues nationally and quoted in the New York Times and Washington Post, and conducted many interviews on television and radio. She was named “One of the Smartest People in Philadelphia” by Philadelphia magazine and has received several leadership awards including the Urban Leadership Award from the Penn Institute for Urban Research. Yael holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley and a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice.

How did The Food Trust get started?

The Reading Terminal Farmers’ Market Trust—the original name of The Food Trust— was founded in 1992 when we noticed that some city residents traveled miles to Reading Terminal Market because they lacked fresh produce in their own neighborhoods. With the mission of ensuring that everyone has access to affordable, nutritious food, no matter where they live, our important work began.

One of the first efforts we took on was bringing a farmers’ market to a public housing development in South Philadelphia. With the help of the Tasker Homes tenant council, we set up one long table of fresh vegetables and fruit each week for residents to purchase. The residents remarked that they “hadn’t seen that kind of quality produce in their neighborhood before.” Now, The Food Trust’s 100-plus staffers work in Philadelphia and across the country to change how we all think about healthy food and increase its availability.

To maximize our impact, we meet folks where they are; in schools, summer programs and rec centers, in grocery stores, bodegas and farmers’ markets. We’re bringing supermarkets to communities that have gone decades without one and training corner store owners to introduce fresh produce, low-fat dairy and whole grains into their stores. We’ve taken soda and junk food out of schools and we’ve taught students to appreciate foods like apples and cherry tomatoes.

We’re opening farmers’ markets in lower-income communities and helping schools get fresh, local food in their cafeterias.

What makes The Food Trust unique?

The Food Trust was founded with a simple idea: healthy change. There were neighborhoods where residents couldn’t easily buy healthy foods, and science shows that people who live in underserved neighborhoods are more at risk for serious diet-related diseases. By working with neighborhoods, schools, grocers, farmers and policymakers, The Food Trust has developed a comprehensive approach to improved food access that combines nutrition education and greater availability of affordable, healthy food. This approach focuses on a range of factors that go into creating a healthy and just food system, allowing us to make the biggest impact possible.

What lies ahead for The Food Trust?

The Food Trust, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, is a national leader in developing new strategies to improve food security and prevent diet-related diseases through innovative programs to increase access to fresh, affordable food and provide nutrition education in underserved communities. A number of Food Trust programs have become national models that will continue to expand beyond Philadelphia to other states, regions and countries in need of healthy food access and nutrition education.

The Food Trust’s research and evaluation team measures the impact of the organization’s direct programming, education and policy work. The agency will continue to integrate research initiatives into its program efforts in order to document success, build on lessons learned and create models for replication.

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