Want Healthy Food? Grow It Yourself—With Help From the Aetna Foundation

It’s pretty clear that the Aetna Foundation has its favorite causes: A full quarter of its annual philanthropic dollars go to the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association. But don’t let that discourage you. Though these two big organizations do get a lot of money, and that’s unlikely to change, there’s plenty left over for the little guys. And Aetna is all about smaller grassroots grantsas well as not-so-small grassroots grants.

Recently, it has announced that its Local Roots program will support the creation and expansion of community gardens, urban farms, and farmers’ markets in urban, disadvantaged communities. During the course of 2015, grants of up to $50,000 over two years will be available to help build healthy eating and living infrastructure in inner-city neighborhoods where help is most needed. Programs that provide nutrition education along with fresh veggies are especially appealing to Aetna.

“The Aetna Foundation wants to understand the contributors to obesity, particularly among minority populations, and what supports and sustains better choices that can stave off overeating and reduce inactivity,” according to the website. “Grant-making in this area focuses on initiatives that create a better understanding of the root causes of the obesity epidemic.”

Yup, you heard that right: Yet another funder that's looking upstream at the causes of America's insanely bad health and hoping to prevent problems before they start. Of course, Aetna is hardly alone is embracing the urban farming craze.

To be eligible for one of these grants, all projects need to include nutrition education or cooking classes focused on the importance of eating and knowing how to prepare fresh produce; the production or distribution of fresh foods; opportunities for participants to pick up job skills or entrepreneurship via community gardening, urban farms, or farmers’ markets; and opportunities for community service and volunteer work.