RWJBarnabas Health Launches Food Hubs Initiative With Seven Pilot Locations Across New Jersey

Health system partners with local organizations and farmers to alleviate food insecurity through distribution, procurement, and education

West Orange, NJ, December 7, 2020 – As part of the mission to create healthier communities, RWJBarnabas Health is proud to announce the launch of its new Food Hubs Initiative, a collaborative undertaking of local nonprofits, businesses, and farmers working to eliminate food insecurity in key areas in New Jersey. With different pilot locations across Newark and New Brunswick, each hub operates on a community level to expand food access, create and improve distribution channels with local farmers, and educate residents on the role of nutrition and healthy eating in overall health outcomes. The initiative is funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, as well as through private donations, and will eventually be implemented in other locations across the state.

“At the highest level, our Food Hubs Initiative is a way to distribute food in the Garden State to places where it is needed the most,” said Barbara Mintz, MS, RD, Senior Vice President of Healthy Living and Community Engagement at RWJBarnabas Health. “As we’ve seen exemplified throughout the pandemic, food insecurity is ultimately a problem of distribution and access, not necessarily lack of food production. Our goal with the hubs is to close those gaps in the supply chain and eradicate the economic, geographic, and social barriers to fresh, healthy food.”

Located in Newark’s North, South, East, and Central Wards, and in New Brunswick, each hub is specifically tailored to the needs of the people it serves. Using a localized approach, the hubs alleviate food insecurity by connecting farmers to buyers, creating centrally-located markets and greenhouses for food procurement, and expanding access to government subsidies so that all residents can obtain healthy, locally-grown produce.

To augment existing resources, the hubs are created in partnership with community stakeholders including Greater Newark Conservancy, Newark Science and Sustainability, the Ironbound Community Corporation, United Vailsburg Services Organization, Elijah’s Promise, the Urban Agriculture Cooperative, and RWJBarnabas Health’s own Beth Greenhouse and Farmers Market. Other partners include the rural farmers and other urban growers in New Jersey, the Foodshed Alliance, and Common Market.

The hubs were chosen for their current infrastructure and work in the urban farming and the food insecurity space. The goal is to create a hub that will provide access to healthy food by creating a distribution channel for all farmers in New Jersey in addition to providing nutrition education. The sites have or are working towards building the needed components that define a RWJBH “hub.” These components include growing space for both hydroponics or traditional farming; ample storage and refrigeration; teaching kitchens equipped with cooking facilities accessible to most residents and/or those entering culinary arts and food service; and retail farmers market space.

“We traditionally think of food hubs as places to buy and purchase food,” said Mintz. “But the ‘why’ is equally important. As anchor organizations, it’s our responsibility to teach our neighbors and communities how healthy eating and balanced nutrition impact overall wellness, and then equip them with the tools to make good choices. Food is medicine, and by expanding access to nutritious, affordable options and increasing education on healthy choices, we can curtail serious health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.”

“When communities produce their own food and have distribution centers within reasonable proximity, people are healthier. When families and individuals don’t have to rely on emergency sources for food, people are healthier,” she added.

The food hubs are part of RWJBarnabas Health’s larger commitment to addressing the social and economic factors that impact wellbeing. Through its Social Impact & Community Investment program, the system works with diverse stakeholders to improve health outcomes, promote health equity, and eliminate healthcare disparities.

“So much of health care today is predicated on the ‘sick care model,’ reacting to disease or adverse health conditions,” said DeAnna Minus-Vincent, Senior Vice President, Chief Social Integration and Health Equity Strategist at RWJBarnabas Health. “But those conditions are often informed by social determinants such as food access and living environment that shape people’s daily lives. If we are going to truly care for people, we must care for them outside of the hospital walls. We have to be a place of healing, but we also need to do everything we can to prevent sickness as well.”

RWJBarnabas Health is the largest, most comprehensive academic health care system in New Jersey, with a service area covering nine counties with five million people. The system includes eleven acute care hospitals; three acute care children’s hospitals and a leading pediatric rehabilitation hospital with a network of outpatient centers, a freestanding 100-bed behavioral health center, two trauma centers, a satellite emergency department, ambulatory care centers, geriatric centers, the state’s largest behavioral health network, comprehensive home care and hospice programs, fitness and wellness centers, retail pharmacy services, a medical group, multi-site imaging centers and two accountable care organizations.

RWJBarnabas Health is New Jersey’s largest private employer – with more than 33,000 employees, 9,000 physicians and 1,000 residents and interns – and routinely captures national awards for outstanding quality and safety. RWJBarnabas Health recently announced a partnership with Rutgers University to create New Jersey’s largest academic health care system. This collaboration will align RWJBarnabas Health with Rutgers’ education, research and clinical activities, including those at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey - the state's only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Carrie Cristello
Director of Media Relations