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Flint fights lead poisoning with farmers markets and cooking classes

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s been five years since
the Flint water crisis first rose to national attention. While it’s not over yet, it has given rise
to initiatives that encourage good nutrition to combat lead exposure and to improve overall
health. We sent John Yang to Michigan to take a look. JOHN YANG: A professional chef leads a cooking
class for kids in a kitchen at the farmers market in Flint, Michigan. They’re not just learning how to make pot
pies, tacos and baked cheese sticks. They’re learning healthy eating with foods
that doctors say help limit the amount of lead their growing bodies absorb, milk, dried
fruits and green leafy vegetables. It’s called Flint Kids Cook, and it’s one
of a number of programs that started or expanded after the city’s public health crisis, which
was triggered by high levels of lead in the drinking water. Pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha, who was among
the first to sound the alarm about lead in the water, explains that the metal is stored
in bones and can reenter the circulatory system. DR. MONA HANNA-ATTISHA, Michigan State University:
In periods of, for example, poor nutrition in the future or stress or pregnancy, it can
come back out of your bones into your bloodstream and cause that neurotoxicity all over again. JOHN YANG: But research, she says, shows that
certain nutrients decrease lead absorption: iron, found in lean meat, spinach and beans,
vitamin C in tomatoes, citrus fruit and peppers, and calcium in milk, cheese and yogurt. DR. MONA HANNA-ATTISHA: That’s why nutrition is
like a forever medicine. Children need to always have great nutrition
to limit the ongoing kind of potential exposure from lead release. JOHN YANG: The six-week Flint Kids Cook course
is an outgrowth of the nutrition prescription program at the city’s two big pediatric clinics,
including one run by Hurley Medical Center in the same building as the farmers’ market. Every child who comes here for an office visit
gets a food prescription: a voucher for $15 worth of fruits or vegetables. And because the clinic is right here at the
farmers market, that prescription can be filled right away. The 3-year-old program of one-time vouchers
given at every office visit is among the first of its kind geared toward children. Michigan State University’s Amy Saxe-Custack
had the idea of adding cooking classes as a way to introduce kids to more kinds of produce. AMY SAXE-CUSTACK, Michigan State University:
Virtually everyone told us that the kids were choosing fruits, because they weren’t familiar
with vegetables, and wouldn’t it be nice if we could find a way to get them to sort of
accept and eat vegetables more often? JOHN YANG: Nikki Bormann works at Steady Eddy’s
Veggies in the market and has seen the effects. NIKKI BORMANN, Steady Eddy’s Veggies: There’s
a lot of kids that come up. Their parents will bring them in and, like,
actually let them pick out fruits and veggies for themselves. So that’s pretty cool, instead of parents
coming in like, well, maybe my kid will eat this, or maybe my kid will eat that, we will
try this today. JOHN YANG: Food stamp recipients can also
get a nutrition boost with Double Up Food Bucks. A national nonprofit called the Fair Food
Network operates the program in more than 25 states. For every dollar spent on produce or milk
products, participants get another dollar to spend on more fruits, vegetables or milk. Shirley Triplett used her benefits at the
farmers market. What did you buy today? SHIRLEY TRIPLETT, Flint Resident: I bought
broccoli and apples so far. JOHN YANG: And you use Double Up Bucks with
this? SHIRLEY TRIPLETT: Yes, I do. I love that program. JOHN YANG: Merchants like it, too. Marvin Kattola is co-owner of Landmark Food
Center. MARVIN KATTOLA, Co-Owner, Landmark Food Center:
I keep encouraging my staff to encourage and teach the customers about it. It’s good for the customers. It’s good for the business. JOHN YANG: Double Up had already been in Flint
since 2009, when the water crisis hit. Oran Hesterman is founder and CEO of Fair
Food Network. ORAN HESTERMAN, Founder and CEO, Fair Food
Network: We went to work and really expanded the program from one location to now about
a dozen locations throughout the city. JOHN YANG: In 2015, 9 percent of the city’s
food stamp recipients used Double Up. Now 60 percent are doubling their money on
fruits, vegetables and milk. Or they could get healthier by growing food
themselves in gardens, where, experts say, using lead-contaminated water has little effect. That’s the idea behind a 10-year-old group
called Edible Flint. Last year, this demonstration plot, roughly
the size of three city house lots, produced nearly 2,000 pounds of kale, tomatoes and
other produce. JULIE DARNTON, Edible Flint: Sometimes, people
will actually drive up with requests, like, do you have green tomatoes today? JOHN YANG: Julie Darnton is on edible Flint’s
leadership board. JULIE DARNTON: The demonstration garden grew
out of a desire to have a learning laboratory for people where they could see techniques
and learn about different ways of growing food. But since the water crisis, we really have
had a focus on connecting what we’re doing here with people’s health. JOHN YANG: Health is also the focus of Flint
Kids Cook. There’s evidence these kids take what they
learn home. Michigan State’s Amy Saxe-Custack: AMY SAXE-CUSTACK: Since the class, they’re
wanting to write the grocery list and they’re running through the grocery store and saying,
we need this, we need this. JOHN YANG: And at the end of their six-week
session, the young cooks proudly serve dinner to their families, a tasty lesson in good
nutrition and good health. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m John Yang in Flint,
Michigan. JUDY WOODRUFF: So heartening to see something
positive coming out of that.

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