Ottawa County nonprofit grows deeper roots in area


Ottawa County residents now don’t have as much of a mouthful when discussing Ottawa food.

The Ottawa Food Policy Council changed its name to Ottawa Food and refocused its marketing efforts to provide a clearer message to the residents of Ottawa County.

The council was founded in 2011 and has worked to improve access to local, affordable and healthy food, but the messaging was a bit wonky, said Lisa Uganski, coordinator of Ottawa Food.

“We’ve been doing these things to get healthier local foods into the hands of people who need it,” Uganski said. “It doesn’t really matter if you have money or not, people don’t make healthy choices.

“We realized we need to do a better job of marketing.”

Prior to the name change, Uganski believed the former name was too formal and sounded governmental. Uganski does work for the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, which funds her position to coordinate the nonprofit, but the rest of the organization is funded through grants and donations. The nonprofit is not a program of the health department, but a collaboration of community entities and the rebranding was meant to help define that to the county’s residents, Uganski said.

With the help of the Michigan Health Endowment “Healthy Ottawa” Fund of the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation and Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area, the organization partnered with Burch Partners to rebrand, including the design of a simple new logo. The new logo is an apple image — meant to signify an easily identifiable part of a healthy diet. The three seeds within the apple represent the three priority areas: eliminating hunger, healthy eating by all and sourcing local food.

“Ottawa Food is much more straightforward and easier to understand what we want to do,” Uganski said. “Ottawa Food is a group that works on hunger and encourages healthy eating and promoting local foods.”

Ottawa Food has a number of initiatives that are beginning to get off the ground, Uganski said. Among the programs are donating parts of harvests at U-pick farms and Ottawa County farmers markets accepting Bridge Cards.

Uganski said the farmers market program allows customers to get double their money in healthy foods, and the Holland market has done tens of thousands of dollars in sales with just a small percentage of people who could be using the program.

“We want people to have access to foods they wouldn’t otherwise have,” she said.

The Meet Up and Eat Up program also feeds free meals to children all summer.

Uganski said 2017 hopefully will be the first year to fully track the efforts of Ottawa Food.

When Ottawa Food Policy Council started in 2011, the organization had approximately six agencies collaborating on the mission, Uganski said. Now, the organization has more than 40 member organizations with full-time commitment and more than 100 that are involved part time.

Member partners include United Way, local food pantries, human service organizations, food security advocates, Michigan State University Extension, Feed America West Michigan, farmers and others.

The goal for Ottawa Food is to ensure people are eating healthy and dispelling the myth hunger doesn’t exist in Ottawa County, Uganski said.

“For the residents of Ottawa County who use our services, and for those who are in need of them, we hope that this new identity will be easier to identify, approach and remember as we grow our roots deeper into our community,” she said. “We see this change as the first step to be a more consumer-friendly organization and as the beginning of a new push for increased awareness and outreach.”

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