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International summer research program to bridge worlds of public health, public markets

Loyola press release - June 20, 2007

(New Orleans)—What does a floating carnival in the Amazon rain forest have in common with a farmers market in Downtown New Orleans? More to the point, what lessons and practices can these two disparate organizations share to help each improve lives in the communities they serve?

These are some of the questions to be addressed by trans·act, an innovative summer fellowship program organized by the New Orleans-based nongovernmental organization marketumbrella.org. Sponsored by a generous grant from the Ford Foundation, trans·act will bring together a respected group of influencers in the worlds of public health, economic development, farmers and public markets and private foundations in an international effort to devise new methodologies and practices for encouraging – and measuring – better nutritional, social and public health in communities where traditions and folkways are being challenged by change and instability.

The 2007 summer fellowship program will include representatives from Projeto Saúde e Alegria (www.saudeealegria.org.br), a Brazilian group that uses a floating circus to bring public health education to isolated rural communities in the Amazon rain forest; the Louisiana Public Health Institute (www.lphi.org); and the Farmers Market Coalition (www.farmersmarketcoalition.org). During several weeks that include extended stays in New Orleans and the Brazilian state of Pará, the research team will develop new ways to integrate the fields of public markets and public health, and provide both with critical analysis and measurement tools to better inform practitioners and decision-makers as how best to utilize markets in asset-based community development strategies.

The result will be a community health equivalent to the Sticky Economy Evaluation Device, or SEED (www.marketumbrella.org/seed), a successful tool developed by marketumbrella.org to help public market organizers gauge the economic impact of markets on the larger community.

"We hope that what we develop in field tests this summer, both in New Orleans and in Brazil, is a methodology to measure these two areas of success - community economic development and public health – and to bridge the gap between these two worlds," says Richard McCarthy, executive director of marketumbrella.org.

Throughout history, public markets have been centers of transactions, both economic and social. In New Orleans, the Crescent City Farmers Market, which is operated by marketumbrella.org, has helped sustain the livelihoods of small farmers and fishers while bringing economic, social and nutritional benefits to a community that was undergoing stressful demographic and economic changes even before Hurricane Katrina. Likewise, Saúde e Alegria's traveling circus has proved to be an effective way to foster trust and deliver preventive health care education in rural areas, where lifestyles and traditions are threatened by the encroachment of large-scale agriculture and development.

Three respected fellows have been selected to head up the trans·act research project: senior fellow J. Robin Moon, of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health; research fellow Mischa Byruck, development director for the group Emergency Communities and a relief volunteer in the Katrina disaster site; and research fellow Julia Corrêa Côrtes, an agronomist with the University of São Paulo who has worked extensively with Brazil's rural and indigenous communities.

Following an introductory convening in New York City June 11-12, the research team will travel to New Orleans June 14-20 to visit existing public markets and meet experts in related fields. From July 9-17, the team will conduct research in Santarem, Brazil. Moon will spend additional weeks at each host site before the research team presents it final report to the trans·act advisory board and partners August 27-29.

"This represents an extraordinary collaboration among experts in both public health and public markets," says McCarthy. "Each will learn from the other. And we believe the benefits of their research will be multiplied not only in the communities they visit, but wherever public markets flourish."

marketumbrella.org initiates and promotes the ecologies of local economies by developing markets, mobilizing people and resources, mentoring emerging leaders, and modeling best practices. Housed at Loyola University New Orleans, marketumbrella.org was co-founded by its executive director Richard McCarthy in 1995. With a staff of seven and an annual operating budget of $500,000, the community-driven organization is a department of the 501[c]3 nonprofit university.