Local Matters leads the way to better health from the workplace


Local Matters teaches children and adults how to grow, cook and access food within their means.

Participants in the organization’s programs are generally at-risk for or experiencing hunger and diet-related diseases.

“Given that focus and our background, we know that everyone needs to build their cooking skills and wants to know how to put a healthy meal on the table as quickly as possible,” says Michelle Moskowitz Brown, executive director at Local Matters.

Since it began in 2008, Local Matters has held general cooking classes throughout the city, but lacked a robust program and delivery structure.

In addition, a not-for-profit is a business with a unique model that must have diversified revenue streams, Moskowitz Brown says. In the current environment, it’s essential to adopt social-entrepreneurial practices that don’t cause mission drift.

Building on its strengths, with support from the Columbus Foundation’s Fund for Financial Innovation, Local Matters launched Wellness Matters this summer. The program improves employee health, morale and offers hands-on education in a variety of settings, including client events.

“Essentially, anyone with a wellness or a hospitality budget (that means anyone who ever orders lunch in for a group) will find significant value in Wellness Matters,” she says.

Smart Business spoke with Moskowitz Brown about the new program.

SB: How does the program work, and what has the response been?

MMB: The program has four offerings: lunch and learns, cooking demos, cooking classes and cook-off challenges. Tailored to client needs, there are 16 possible discussion topics including meal planning, cooking in season and healthy lunches and snacks.

We understand it is hard to find the time to focus on personal health and wellness, so we built the program to be offered during lunch or for an hour in the late afternoon, and when desired, in the evening.

Some clients have used the program to kick off their annual wellness program, and it can also be used as a perk for employees.

The program has been received with a lot of enthusiasm. In addition to its offerings, one of the best features is that 100 percent of the proceeds are invested in our work with populations in need.

SB: What are the goals for Wellness Matters, and how does that fit into your overall mission?

MMB: The goals are to serve companies, their employees and clients with hands-on food education to meet their needs for personal well-being while having fun.

As a social enterprise model, the function of the program is to generate earned income. Our 2014 goal is to net 25 percent income over expenses, which is ambitious. As far as a percentage of our overall budget, we would like to see this stream grow to net at least 10 percent of our total budget, which would be about $100,000.

This program fits seamlessly into our overall mission. We want individuals to consider the role of food in their lives, and that means that we need to reach the broadest and most diverse audience possible to inspire actions big and small.

SB: Have you come across anything surprising so far?

MMB: When we started planning Wellness Matters, we thought it would be possible to integrate our work into employee wellness programs more easily.

What we are finding is that it’s harder to break into more formal programs that focus on traditional biometrics. But there are many employers who more easily “get” what we are trying to do — create behavior change through experiential learning.

SB: What would you advise employers about wellness and employee nutrition?

MMB: We are new to this sphere, so we are still learning from employers as we go, but I would encourage employers to experiment.

We all know that employee morale and productivity are inextricably linked — we’re only as good as the team feels — so let your employees determine what wellness means to them. Allow them to help shape a robust company program that ultimately improves their life and is cost-effective for employers who will see health insurance premiums decrease.

SB: How do you think Central Ohioans can better work together to improve the area’s sustainable food system?

MMB: This question goes to the founding of our organization, which was based on a vision and belief that everyone has a right to healthful, sustainable and affordable food, and that we must counteract the prediction that the current generation of children will have a shorter lifespan than their parents (unthinkable in our advanced nation).

We need to take back our food system. We all need to build the skills, resources and confidence to feed ourselves well. Alongside our personal consumption, we can consider how and where our food is grown and processed, and how unused food is either recovered or wasted. There are so many roles to be filled by future food leaders.