'Food Frontiers' documentary explores alternative ways to access fresh food

Film was produced by Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Video: Leo Horrigan and Michael Milli / Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Until 2013, the citizens of Cody, Nebraska, had to travel a minimum of 42 miles to the nearest grocery story. When you live in a rural town of 154 people, big-market chains tend to look the other way.

Frustrated with the status quo and wary of Cody's long-term future, the residents realized they had to get creative if they wanted more convenient fresh food options. The town's public school teachers had an idea: build a store and put the kids in charge.

The result was the Circle C Market, a grocery store built and run almost entirely by local students, who work there for class credit, real-world experience, and some extra cash. The small store, which opened in May 2013, has thrived, and earlier this year it was featured on PBS NewsHour.

The Circle C Market is one of six success stories chronicled in a new documentary film produced by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future titled Food Frontiers. The film, which runs just over 30 minutes, premiered Tuesday at JHU's Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Food Frontiers showcases projects from around the United States that are increasing access to healthy food in varied and innovative ways, including:

  • A pioneering farm-to-school enterprise in southern California that has made local produce a staple in school district cafeterias and transformed the students' diet
  • A pediatrician nicknamed Dr. Yum in Virginia who prescribes cooking classes for her patients and their parents and runs a commercial kitchen out of her medical practice
  • A nonprofit that develops farmers markets in high-need New York City neighborhoods
  • A community-based cooking education program called The Happy Kitchen in Austin, Texas
  • Philadelphia's Fresh Food Financing Initiative, a public/private financing strategy that pieced together $190 million to upgrade supermarkets in Pennsylvania or build new ones

The film will be part of the Center for a Livable Future's Foodscape online curriculum, an interactive site to be released in August that will provide an overview of the food system for high school students and teachers.

Leo Horrigan, a food system correspondent with CLF who co-produced the film along with Mike Milli, says he views the documentary as a teaching aid and a conversation starter as the nation looks for ways to address the rise of obesity and diabetes, which are often linked to the lack of access to healthy food.

"We hope this film will inspire people who may want to replicate the successful projects we examined," says Horrigan, who also produced the 2010 documentary Out to Pasture: The Future of Farming?, a joint project of the CLF and the Video and Film Arts Department at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

At the Food Frontiers premier, held in the Bloomberg School's Sheldon Hall, three of the film's stars were on hand for a question and answer session after the screening. They included Rodney Taylor, a food service director who started projects in the Santa Monica and Riverside, California, school districts before moving recently to Fairfax County, Virginia.

Taylor says it's vital that we teach our children not just English and math, but how to be lifelong healthy eaters. That means giving students healthy options, he says, so the first thing they see in the cafeteria line is a salad bar and fresh fruit, and not packaged, processed foods.

"We've shown that you can transform school food," he said, "and it can serve as a catalyst for change in the community."