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Creating a culture of health using economic development tools

12/21/2016

Rosa Rios Valdez, CEO, Business and Community Lenders of Texas

Challenge: San Antonio had the second highest rate of obesity among U.S. metro areas in 2014. Obesity is often a precursor to diabetes and other health problems. Diabetes is prevalent among low-to-moderate income households and people of color, including Latinos.

A photo of four olive oil bottles on a colorful, festive table with potted flowers and fresh vegetables

Among U.S. metro areas in 2014 Gallup survey, San Antonio had the second highest rate of obesity, often a precursor to diabetes and other health problems. Diabetes is prevalent among low-to-moderate income households and people of color, including Latinos. To address this growing concern in Texas, home to a large Latino population, Business and Community Lenders of Texas (BCL) partnered with organizations and individuals to help change eating habits.

BCL strives to develop unique solutions to address the needs of our service area, which encompasses 94 counties. Our mission is to improve lives through economic development, to help individuals, entrepreneurs and families build assets and to help communities grow by creating jobs and increasing the tax base. BCL uses economic development tools to address social problems that are otherwise not directly tied to these services.

The founding of our social enterprise, Salud de Paloma, and our healthy foods business development efforts in San Antonio are a prime example of using economic growth to target social problems. We created jobs and promoted healthy eating by supporting a new, niche industry in Texas with an investment in an olive oil bottling facility.

Collaborating with the National Association of Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB), BCL of Texas received a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to form a business to bottle and sell olive oil. Salud de Paloma Extra Virgin Olive Oil, launched in 2013, received a grant from the Texas Department of Agriculture to become the first olive oil company in the U.S. to create sample packets specifically to disperse at health fairs, doctors' offices, charter schools, Dell Children's Hospital, diabetes awareness events and other locations.

We developed a network of healthy food providers and those working to promote healthy eating throughout their communities. A City of San Antonio redevelopment study recommended attracting a healthy eatery to its historic Plaza de Armas, so BCL partnered with a local entrepreneur to create O'liva Healthy Local Cuisine and Tasting Room, a seasonal farm-to-table eatery. The Plaza de Armas is located in a food desert and reaching these underserved customers is a priority for Salud de Paloma.

Image of a farmer's market, where a man stands at a table with red bell peppers and other vegetablesWhile the restaurant was under construction, BCL became a cofounder in establishing Mercado de O'liva, a farmers market located in the plaza of the Spanish Governor's Palace, near the O'liva Healthy Local Cuisine and Tasting Room and on the site of the first market in San Antonio. To further support the provision of healthy foods to those who need it most, BCL received a SNAP grant from the Texas Department of Agriculture to ensure we could reach underserved customers and accept Lone Star cards for payment. The Mercado de O'liva has since expanded into five additional food deserts in San Antonio. All are Go Texan Certified Farmers Markets by the Texas Department of Agriculture.

By selling a premium olive oil product at an affordable price, we expand access to this healthy food product and work toward our goal to create a culture of health within the communities we serve. Salud de Paloma distributed 16,000 samples to underserved customers who may be at risk of developing health conditions such as diabetes without proper eating habits. The opening of O'liva Healthy Local Cuisine and Tasting Room and the Mercados de O'liva provided momentum for the farm-to-table movement in San Antonio. We anticipate reaching 2,000 underserved customers in food deserts through the Mercados de O'liva in 2016. The markets feature nutritionists and healthy cooking demonstrations, and the Salud de Paloma Extra Virgin Olive Oil is available online and at O'liva Healthy Local Cuisine and Tasting Room. Our combined efforts have resulted in an approximately $2 million in investments in healthy eating for San Antonio and the greater Texas area.

BCL learned several lessons through this project:
  1. Partnerships with entrepreneurs and nonprofits can result in economic development and solutions to social problems.
  2. The role of economic development is broader than job creation.
  3. Social enterprise is another tool nonprofits can use to further their missions while creating positive outcomes and an additional income stream for the organization.

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