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Posts Tagged ‘food desert’

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Fresh produce in a market that is one of many in an affluent town. Many urban areas in America do not have easy access to such nutritious food.

In many parts of this great land of ours, people go hungry or subsist on junk food because that’s what’s available. I’ve written about food deserts before, and I continue to be interested in how activists and small businesses are addressing the problem.

Brittany Hutson reports at WEDT and National Public Radio (NPR), “On a cold, sunny day in early February, Raphael Wright and his business partner, Sonya Greene, check out a vacant building in Detroit’s Linwood neighborhood. Inside, wood panels are on the floor, and drywall is being placed over exposed brick. The only clue to the building’s past is a sign out front, with the words ‘Liquor, Beepers, and Check Cashing.’

“Located on the west side of Detroit, the Linwood neighborhood remains underdeveloped, with few retail businesses, countless empty lots and many vacant buildings. But Wright and Greene see potential here. It’s why they’ve chosen this neighborhood to open a bodega that sells healthy food. Like other neglected neighborhoods in urban areas, fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t a basic necessity here — they’re a luxury.

“Wright says it’s been that way since he was a kid.

” ‘I was raised in the ’90s, and I always say that we were junk food babies,’ he explains. … ‘Liquor stores, gas stations, and many times fast food restaurants were pretty much our go-to places to eat. … I’m a victim of food insecurity. … I was diagnosed with diabetes at 19, so before I was old enough to have a drink, I was diabetic.’

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Photo: Brittany Hutson/WDET
Sonya Greene and Raphael Wright are the folks behind a bodega offering fresh produce, prepared foods and staple items in an underdeveloped Detroit neighborhood.

“Wright wants the bodega, tentatively named the Glendale Mini Mart, to be a pilot for a full-range grocery store he hopes to open in the future. The bodega will offer fresh produce, prepared foods and staple items. He says he hopes it will be part of a larger mixed-use development that will include a barber shop, a beauty salon and housing. …

“Wright and Greene are not the first to recognize the importance of Detroit’s African American residents having access to fresh, reasonably priced food. That awareness began more than 50 years ago, following the rebellion that rocked the city. …

“The riots were the culmination of high levels of frustration, resentment and anger among African Americans due to unemployment, poverty, racial segregation, police brutality and lack of economic and education opportunities. However, there was something else not often discussed — food.

“According to Alex Hill, adjunct professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, there was a ‘fairly expansive hunger issue in the community’ around that time. Hill’s research on the ’67 Rebellion looks at food, power and race. In many ways, it’s the continuation of work that began when the non-profit group Focus: HOPE began studying conditions in Detroit’s black neighborhoods in the ’60s as a response to the riots.

“Focus: HOPE educated the clergy and the white Christian community on racism, poverty and other forms of injustice. In 1968, the organization released a Consumer Survey on Food and Drugs. …

“To get answers, nearly 400 suburban white women and inner-city black women were trained as undercover shoppers and sent to 300 grocery stores in the Detroit metro area. The main findings were that poor inner-city Detroiters were paying up to 20% more for lower-quality groceries. The survey also found that the quality of service, store condition, produce and meats in the city’s chain and independent stores were not of average quality compared to upper-income and suburban stores. …

” ‘In thinking about those disparities and access, those are still very much real. They may look different, but I’d say they’re very much the same from 1967.’ He says … Detroiters travel outside of the city on weekends to larger chain grocers to stock up and use their local grocer for smaller needs, such as eggs or milk, during the week. …

“Wright says the bodega is also about representation.

” ‘We’ve seen our grocery stores not be representative of our communities,’ he says. ‘So putting faces in the community that looked like us, that are from our neighborhoods and understand what we’re going through, it makes the education part easier.’ ”

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: Matthew Morris
Boston Medical Center’s rooftop farm, spanning 2,658 square feet, is part of a mission to keep patients, especially low-income patients, healthy. 

For many years, visionary physicians and staff at Boston Medical Center (BMC) have been taking a holistic approach to caring for patients — more often than not, desperately poor patients. If a child had asthma from conditions in a suboptimal apartment, BMC enlisted pro bono lawyers to get the landlord to meet legal obligations. If new Americans needed help understanding the forms they were supposed to fill out, BMC rounded up translators and guides. It didn’t have to be medical forms: people could get help with any kind of form.

The story below shows BMC’s ongoing efforts to ensure patients living in food deserts get decent nourishment. Doctors started writing prescriptions for farmers markets. Now they’re supporting a move to grow healthful food on the hospital’s roof.

Lindsay Campbell has the story at Modern Farmer.

“Carrie Golden believes the only reason she’s diabetes free is that she has access to fresh, locally grown food.

“A few years after the Boston resident was diagnosed with prediabetes, she was referred to Boston Medical Center’s Preventative Food Pantry as someone who was food insecure. The food pantry is a free food resource for low-income patients.

“ ‘You become diabetic because when you don’t have good food to eat, you eat whatever you can to survive,’ Golden says. …

“Three years ago, the hospital launched a rooftop farm to grow fresh produce for the pantry. The farm has produced 6,000 pounds of food a year, with 3,500 pounds slated for the pantry. The rest of its produce goes to the hospital’s cafeteria, patients, a teaching kitchen and an in-house portable farmers market. … The facility’s 2,658-square-foot garden houses more than 25 crops, organically grown in a milk crate system.

“ ‘Food is medicine. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing,’ says David Maffeo, the hospital’s senior director of support services. ‘Most urban environments are food deserts. It’s hard to get locally grown food and I think it’s something that we owe to our patients and our community.’

“Lindsay Allen, a farmer who has been managing the rooftop oasis since its inception, says her farm’s produce is being used for preventative care as well as in reactive care. … What people put in their bodies has a direct link to their health she says, adding that hospitals have a responsibility to give their patients better food. …

“In addition to running the farm, Allen teaches a number of farming workshops to educate patients, employees and their families on how to grow their own food. The hospital’s teaching kitchen employs a number of food technicians and dieticians who offer their expertise to patients on how they can make meals with the local produce they’re given.

“This is part of the medical center’s objective to not only give patients good food, but also provide them the tools to lead a healthy life. Golden, who has used the pantry for the last three years, says the experience has changed the way she looks at food.

“ ‘I’ve gone many days with nothing to eat, so I know what that feels like when you get something like the food pantry that gives you what you need to stay healthy,’ she says. ‘I appreciate all the people that put their heart into working in the garden. If only they knew how we really need them.’ ” Perhaps they do.

More at Modern Farmer.

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Here’s an upbeat story about the contributions of immigrants.  It relates to an area of Erie, Pennsylvania, that got a shot of adrenaline when entrepreneurial refugees began opening markets to serve various ethnicities.

Erika Beras reported at PRI radio’s The World, “Much of Erie, Pennsylvania is a food desert — people don’t have easy access to fresh or nutritious food. But [stores] run by refugees are popping up and making a big difference.

“At UK Supermarket, Samantha Dhungel pulls bags of vegetables out of the freezer. In her cart are onions and eggplant, but she pulls out a vegetable she only knows by its Nepali name. It’s a leafy green that her Nepalese husband uses in his cooking. …

“Before this store opened two years ago, there were a couple convenience stores and a few fast food spots around. All of them sold food that wasn’t nutritious, says Alex Iorio. She’s the public health educator for the Erie Department of Health. She says this place is different. …

“Most of the stores carry fresh foods and whole-grain items. Before, if people in the neighborhood wanted fresh vegetables, cornmeal or nuts, they’d have to drive across town or to the suburbs.

“Then two years ago, Pradip Upreti, a Nepalese refugee, opened UK Supermarket. … He wasn’t trying to solve the food desert problem — none of the store owners were. They just wanted refugees in Erie, who make up 10 percent of the city, to have access to specific foods.

“People would drive distances and buy up items like jackfruit and halal pizza. Then they’d resell those items to people in their community. Upreti saw a business opening there. …

“Upreti’s store carries mostly South Asian foods. Across the street is an Iraqi owned store that carries lots of spices. Around the corner, another Iraqi store specializes in fish and meats like lamb and goat. And there are well over a dozen more stores like them.” More here.

Many immigrants become small business owners. Happily for their neighbors and other people who enjoy foods from around the world, some of them open grocery stores.

Photo: Erika Beras
Pradip Upreti, center, stocks shelves in his Erie, Pennsylvania store, UK Supermarket.

 

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I had an awfully nice lunch yesterday, and I’d like to tell you about it. It involved two nonprofits — the mostly Caucasian conservation group Trustees of Reservations and the mostly African American community-outreach enterprise called Haley House.

The trustees had a really great idea recently to do meaningful art installations on a couple of their properties and chose one next to the Old Manse in Concord. The Old Manse is most often associated with 19th Century novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, but the grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson was also a resident and saw the historic events unfold at the North Bridge on April 19, 1775.

Artist Sam Durant wanted to draw attention to the presence of slaves in the early days of Concord and launch a discussion, so he constructed a kind of big-tent meeting house, with a floor made of the kinds of materials that might have been in slave buildings.

The Trustees conferred with him on a series of “lyceums” that might bring races together at the site. They decided that at the first one, they would encourage races to break bread together and talk about food traditions.

From Haley House in Roxbury, they brought in a chef, a beautiful meal, and singer/educator/retired-nurse Fulani Haynes.

I ate a vegan burger, sweet-potato mash, very spicey collard greens and wonderful corn muffins. Also available were salad and chicken.

Haynes sang a bit and talked about the origins of Haley House, how it helps low-income people and ex-offenders and local children, teaching cooking and nutrition and gardening, among other things. She invited attendees to tell food stories from their early years, and several brave spirits stood up.

That participatory aspect of the activities helped to reduce the impression that African Americans were making entertainments for a mostly white audience (art, food, music entertainments).

I loved the whole thing and learned a lot. (For example, Grandpa Emerson had slaves living upstairs, and “the embattled farmers” who “fired the shot heard ’round the world” were able to go marching off because slaves were working the farms. I really didn’t know.)

African American artifacts are on display next door at the Old Manse. The art installation will be up until the end of October 2016.

More here.

Photos: Artist Sam Durant offers the crowd a new lens on history. The chef from Haley House keeps an eye on the African American cuisine. Fulani Haynes demonstrates how a food can become an instrument.

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At the Guardian, teacher Steve Ritz tells Matthew Jenkin about how he began growing food in a troubled South Bronx school.

“The Green Bronx Machine was an accidental success. I wound up working at a very troubled high school in New York’s South Bronx district. It had a very low graduation rate and the bulk of my kids were special educational needs, English language learners, in foster care or homeless. It was dysfunctional to say the least.

“Someone sent me a box of daffodil bulbs one day and I hid them behind a radiator – I didn’t know what they were and figured they may cause problems in class. A while later … we looked behind the radiator and there were all these flowers. The steam from the radiator forced the bulbs to grow.

“That was when I realised that collectively and collaboratively we could grow something greater. We started taking over abandoned lots and doing landscape gardening, really just to beautify our neighbourhood. … We then moved on to growing food indoors in vertical planters around the school.

“By building an ‘edible wall’ to grow fresh vegetables in our science classroom, I gave the kids a reason to come to school. …

“Remarkably the plants grew. The kids really believe that they are responsible for them and attendance has increased from 43% to 93%. Students come to school to take care of their plants – they want to see them succeed. Along the way, the kids succeed, too.” More here.

Photo: Progressive Photos  
Steve Ritz gets students involved in the natural world. Attendance has more than doubled.

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I love the idea of making use of perfectly good food that otherwise would be thrown out. Despite initial skepticism from the neighborhood where the Daily Table grocery was to open, customers are really grateful for the access and the low prices.

Taryn Luna the Boston Globe quotes the founder: ” ‘Our job at Daily Table is to provide healthy meals that are no more expensive than what people are already buying,’ said Doug Rauch, the founder of Daily Table and former president of Trader Joe’s. ‘We’re trying to reach a segment of the population that is hard to reach. It’s the working poor who are out buying food, but who can’t afford the food they should be eating.’ …

“Rauch has built relationships with suppliers to divert garbage-bound products to his shelves. He’s careful to point out that it doesn’t mean the food is ‘bad,’ expired, or unsafe to eat.

“A vendor at Haymarket, for example, donated a couple hundred pounds of summer squash he intended to throw away after the food didn’t sell. Daily Table expects to sell it for 59 cents a pound. Rauch said he has also purchased vegetables that grocery stores reject because of blemishes or other cosmetic problems that don’t affect the quality of the product.”

The Globe’s Yvonne Abraham visited after the opening: “They can’t keep the cucumber-pear-mint smoothies and salisbury steak on the shelves at Daily Table. The food emporium in Dorchester’s Four Corners has been slammed in its first week, with 300 customers a day, and three times more locals than expected signing up for free memberships.

“Everybody who works at the store — the managers wheeling out food, the white-coated kitchen staff making carrot soup behind the big picture window, the cashiers in bright T-shirts — looks exhausted, and happy.”

From the Daily Table website: “Daily Table is a not-for-profit retail store that offers our community a variety of tasty, convenient and affordable foods that will help you feel and be your best; food that will keep you moving forward, not hold you back.  We provide both ‘grab-n-go’ ready to eat meals, and a selection of produce, bread, dairy and grocery items all at prices that will put a smile on your face, and designed to fit within every budget.  Many of our items are prepared fresh daily in our own kitchen onsite. …

“There are plans to open additional stores in both the greater Boston area and additional cities across the country.

“Working together we can help reduce both the effects of poor eating habits caused by challenging economics, and the impact that wasted food and its precious resources has on our environment.”

More here.

Photo: Daily Table
Opening day in Dorchester, June 4, 2015.

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Ron Finley is a man of humble ambitions. He aims to save the planet, beginning with urban gardeners. I heard an interview with him on America’s Test Kitchen as I was driving home today.

From his website: “Let’s grow this seed of urban guerrilla gardening into a school of nourishment and change. Help spread his dream of edible gardens, one city at a time. …

“In part of this effort, Ron is planning to build an urban garden in South Central LA that will serve as an example of a well-balanced, fruit-and-veggie oasis – called ‘HQ.’ Inspired by the idea of turning unused space such as parkways and vacant lots into fruitful endeavors, this garden and gathering place will be a community hub, where people learn about nutrition and join together to plant, work and unwind. HQ will create a myriad of jobs for local residents, and this plot of land will be a self-sufficient ecosystem.”

It all started, according to Ron, when he “wanted a carrot without toxic ingredients I didn’t know how to spell.” He began to plant food near his house, on a strip by a road.

“The City of Los Angeles owns the ‘parkways,’ the neglected dirt areas next to roads where Ron was planting. He was cited for gardening without a permit.”

After Ron “started a petition with fellow green activists, demanding the right to garden and grow food in his neighborhood … the city backed off.” More here.

When asked on America’s Test Kitchen if his gardens were not just about obesity and healthful eating but also about making neighborhoods more livable, Ron said he wanted to do that for the whole planet.

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