On Common Ground is connecting our community with nutritious food

On Common Ground (OCG) is a 501(c3) nonprofit dedicated to the food-justice movement. Founded in 2016 by Shannon and Michelle Dobbs, OCG’s mission is to connect community with nutritious food, education and tools to help adults and children meet their potential. Their vision is to build a longer table together by increasing access to nutritious food in under-served areas and teaching people how to make it delicious.

OCG’s sustainability goals focus on community and partnership. By listening to the people who struggle to find food every day and by meeting with area service, education, agriculture and supply advocates, On Common Ground identified the barriers to food insecurity within Northern Nevada. The top three barriers—echoed throughout the country—are access, cost, and transportation, closely followed by lack of knowledge and resources, lack of appliances, and unmet dietary needs. Their goal is to reduce food insecurity and waste through education and creation of logistical solutions that channel nutritious food to the places and people [On Common Ground logo] ​ who need it most. Nevada, like—every state in the US—wastes approximately 40% of all food produced, including up to half of all produce grown. Nationally, that amounts to $218 Billion dollars, which equals 1.3% of the U.S. gross-domestic product (Natural Resources Defense Council).

On Common Ground has developed a workable model for a commercial kitchen and processing plant designed to capture and process food which would otherwise be wasted, thereby diverting excess or unsold foods from landfills. Prepared food will then be distributed on a sliding scale via direct orders and through community partners serving nutritious food to hungry people.  

"When my wife, Michelle, and I ran successful businesses for several years, the struggle of our customers, staff, friends and neighbors to achieve healthy lifestyles became apparent.  Firsthand, Michelle and I personally fought to secure food, health and lodging resources for a close family member with severe physical disabilities. We also pulled a member of our immediate family who suffers from mental illness off the streets at least a half-dozen times.  Without access to personal resources and intervention, we truly believe both young men would have died.” said Shannon.

Nationwide, the CDC states that 80% of all healthcare costs in the United States are food related. We believe this is preventable, and the problem can be fixed. On Common Ground officers and staff work tirelessly to shift the culture of food access from scarcity to one of abundance through business-based engineering and educational processes. Resources must be allocated, and policy changes must be enacted in order to achieve OCG’s vision of “Building a longer table together.”

In less than four years, OCG partnerships, planning and outreach have expanded exponentially, along with awareness of hunger as a problem within our community and beyond. OCG first focused on information and resource gathering (listening and learning), then established strong branding based upon a solid foundation of guiding principles and objectives. Working with community partners inclusive of University of Nevada Reno, SNAP-Ed Division of Health and Human Services and local businesses and agencies, OCG conducted scientifically-based surveys and focus groups, then formulated business-based solutions designed to provide sustainable food-security solutions. Solutions are designed to reduce dependence on existing emergency food-service models by providing people the ability to provide for themselves.

Currently, OCG’s Heart of Community Instructional Program (HOC), funded through Nevada SNAP-Ed via the United States Department of Agriculture, provides nutrition and fitness classes that make healthy choices easier for people with limited resources. Community partners that cater to vulnerable populations within Washoe County host these classes. The educational courses, combined with tools like Cook-At-Home Kits, help participants increase personal self-management capabilities to reduce risk of chronic disease and to improve overall health.

As with all grassroots non-profits, they struggle to find consistent volunteerism and funds to build the processing and kitchen plant that will enable them to turn ingredients otherwise wasted into shelf-stable food, and fund a distribution and delivery hub for Cook-at-Home meal packets, grocery staples, and portable cooking appliances. 

In order to figure out how to best serve the community, OCG used scientifically based focus groups and surveys to identify barriers to healthy choices. Community members and professionals teamed up to engineer solutions. The database for OCG’s Heart of Community Instructional Program quantifies the number of people who make healthier food and nutrition choices. Results are benchmarked by pretests and measured by post-tests plus testimonials; analytics, engagement and testimonials are tracked, along with marketing and media.

A data-driven system and agreements with healthcare providers are being established to track participant health indicators. Biometric indicators of participants who have food-related chronic disease with existing health metrics indicative of obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and/or diabetes will be anonymously benchmarked and tracked over time.

For others who are interested in helping their community, Shannon recommends that you look around your community for other organizations that have complementary missions, goals or processes, and team up.  Collaborate on ways to maximize organizational resources and networks, and avoid duplication of expense and effort.  Share durable resources and vigorously network for each other.  This force multiplier allows communities to tackle bigger and more complex challenges that seem daunting alone.  We are stronger together!  

Bento box meal prepping at OCG

 

Learning about fruits and veggies at Spanish Springs Daycare