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Posts Tagged ‘food desert’

Photo: Reminder Publishing.
Jared and Sam Newell are the current owners of Fruit Fair in Chicopee, Mass.

Too many low-income communities lack a decent supermarket or any access to the fresh fruits and vegetables so necessary for healthful living. I do occasionally see reports on food-desert pioneers trying to remedy that, but they seldom succeed without a little help from funders.

Karen Brown wrote at New England Public Media about a pioneering market in Chicopee, Massachusetts, that everyone wants to see successful.

“Western Massachusetts is home to acres of farmland and vegetable stands, as well as many neighborhoods considered ‘food deserts.’ As food prices go up, government programs are supporting efforts to offer more affordable, healthy food.

“The new owners of one longtime grocery store in Chicopee have made it their mission to become a fresh-food resource, but against considerable odds.

“One recent afternoon, Samaita Newell, co-owner of Fruit Fair, was slicing cheese at the deli counter, giving one of her staff a few minutes off and exchanging pleasantries with the regular customers. …

“In 2019, Newell and her husband Jared bought the 6,000 square-foot store (plus an extra 5,000 square feet of storage). At the time, most of the produce inventory was packaged or frozen. They added more long shelves of fruits and vegetables, including from local farms.

“ ‘We even have things like fiddleheads,’ Newell said, pointing at a long shelf of fresh produce. ‘We get radishes, we get scallions, we get green leaf, red leaf, asparagus, native corn.’

“This area of Chicopee has long been classified by the US government as a low-income, low-access food area, also known as a food desert, where it’s hard to find affordable, fresh food.

“The Newells say their goal was to fill that void, while making a living, but they are learning how low the profit margin is. ‘We actually have yet to cash in any of our paychecks,’ Samaita Newell said. ‘And we have been working here almost three years.’

“Newell didn’t start her career in the grocery business. She emigrated as a college student from India, studying physics and astronomy, which is what her family and culture expected from her. But when she started dating Jared, she said, her family stopped supporting her.

“ ‘Being an immigrant and studying physics, I didn’t really have like a lot of connections,’ she said. ‘So I had to start somewhere and I started in retail.’ …

“Feeling stymied as a person of color, she decided it was time to own her own business. Jared had been working for a forestry company. The couple had already bought a few rental properties for income. But they wanted a store.

They bought Fruit Fair for $1.4 million and quickly discovered it would need a lot of investment.

“ ‘All of the equipment was falling apart,’ Jared Newell said. ‘More than a quarter of everything was already dated. We had to throw it all out just so that we could have fresh product coming in.’ …

“ ‘[There are] a lot of convenience stores, but it’s all chips and soda,’ said John Waite, who administers a state-funded program called the Massachusetts Food Trust. Waite’s organization, the Franklin County Community Development Corporation, is in charge of giving out loans and grants to food retailers in western and central Massachusetts. The program came out of a 2012 report on the need for more equitable access to healthy food.

“Waite said one strategy is to recruit large supermarkets like Big Y and Stop & Shop into underserved areas, but those efforts can take years of advocacy. ‘So trying to get a smaller store to increase their offering is the other way to go,’ he said. ‘We also think this is a good economic development tool.’ …

“The Newells say a loan and grant from the Massachusetts Food Trust has helped keep them afloat. But it still hasn’t been easy. … Sales are up by 20%, but some costs have tripled. Every week they have to relabel 200 grocery items to keep up with rising prices.

“ ‘The same customers are coming in,’ Samaita Newell said, ‘but instead of getting like 20 things, they’re probably getting like 15 or 16 and thinking like, “Okay, this is a huge price difference. This I will get elsewhere.” ‘

“That means stiff competition from large chains such as Walmart, which can sell groceries at a discount. …

“Samaita and Jared Newell say they’re in it for the long haul — but it is a long haul. Both in their 30s, they have decided to put off having children while they get the store going. This year they hope to finally pay themselves a salary.”

More here. No firewall.

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Photo: Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun.
Harold Morales, left, an associate professor at Morgan State University, loads boxes of vegetables with help from Troy Costner, center, and Artar Isreal, right, at Plantation Park Heights Urban Farm to deliver to a community center.

In a time of wintry weather and a return to isolation, it’s nice to think of warmer days and communities working outdoors together. Today’s story is about an urban farm in Baltimore that is providing healthful food where it’s needed most.

Stephanie Garcia writes at the Baltimore Sun about Plantation Park Heights Urban Farm.

“The lot at the corner of Springhill and Cottage avenues in Baltimore used to be vacant. Today, it’s home to one of the top 10 innovative farms in the country, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“Known as Plantation Park Heights Urban Farm, it was founded eight years ago by Richard Francis, affectionately known as Farmer Chippy, who was looking for a community from the Caribbean diaspora in Baltimore and wanted to grow food for — and with — Park Heights residents.

“The farm has grown beyond Park Heights, with farmers aiming to grow 250,000 pounds of food across 30 city-owned vacant lots, all leased by the Plantation. … Collectively, these farmers and others in Baltimore plan to build the city’s first AgriHood, or a marketplace and community-shared agriculture and training resource institute. …

“Francis [has] secured partnerships with the University of Maryland, Coppin State University and Holistic Wellness and Health, which offers fresh plant-based cooking classes.

” ‘We’ll be positioned and ready to serve our youngest citizens, those who are at risk in Park Heights,’ Francis said. ‘The institute is going to put agriculture in the classroom and following through with our children so that they can become farmers and chefs before they become scientists, doctors and lawyers.’ …

“Francis said the farm’s name is intentionally provocative. ‘We wanted to remind children of the colonizers, that this is where it all started,’ Francis explained. ‘One group produces and the other group developed a thriving economy. Today, we say equal rights and justice for all on the Plantation. Let’s include those who were left out.’

“Agriculture is found across Baltimore, with over 20 urban farms and 100 community gardens, according to the Baltimore Office of Sustainability. It is a hotbed for art and community service, hosting poetry open mics and bringing quality produce to Maryland correctional institutions. [The Plantation] also has connected families with resources beyond farming and agriculture, helping dozens of neighbors with energy-saving grants and other services to help prevent eviction and homelessness.

“One community partner is the Morgan State University Center for the Study of Religion and the City. … Harold Morales, an associate professor of philosophy and religious studies at Morgan State, usually visits the urban farm on Thursday afternoons. He can be found pulling weeds, planting, harvesting and distributing one of the 300 free food boxes donated weekly through a U.S. Department of Agriculture program. Morales also helps with grant writing and research for the Plantation. …

“Park Heights Renaissance, a nonprofit organization focused on land and economic development, awarded the Plantation a $25,000 grant to support agriculture in classrooms across four public elementary schools in Park Heights. Children ages 5 to 15 are learning how to grow, harvest and package nutrient-dense foods for families in the community.

“Morales refers to the Plantation as a little piece of the Caribbean in Park Heights, where land, food and community come together. ‘Shovel, rakes, soil. Those are the things you need to survive in the urban context, but that’s not what people usually think,’ Morales said.

“Francis has seen plenty of similarities to his native Trinidad and Tobago. ‘Park Heights is like a Third World city. It has been neglected, it is heavily populated with Black and Brown people,’ he said. ‘It has a port, and it has a thriving economy happening outside of the poverty. We have an amazing educational system in the Caribbean, just like here with Johns Hopkins and the likes. But we are still unable to retain our talent, because most of these people graduate and go outside for opportunities.’ …

“Caribbean crops like sugar cane, sweet potatoes and Trinidad scorpion peppers are grown at the Plantation. Youth farmers learn that plantain leaves have healing properties for bites or stings and can be used like a bandage. …

“ ‘What’s often referred to as food deserts more appropriately should be called food apartheid,’ Morales said. … Francis echoes that sentiment and wants to transform Park Heights from a food desert into a food oasis. AgriHood Baltimore is key for this vision to come to fruition. ‘It is the close of the summer season for us, and we’re getting ready for next year,’ he said. ‘We’re coming bigger, better, faster and stronger.’ “

More at the Baltimore Sun, here.

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Photo: Soul Fire Farm.
Soul Fire Farm is an Afro-Indigenous centered community farm in upstate New York that raises and distributes “life-giving food as a means to end food apartheid.”

Having blogged about this forward-thinking farm in 2019, here, I thought I would go back and check on how it’s doing today. Its focus on food apartheid and climate change are more relevant than ever.

Darryl Fears at the Washington Post interviewed Leah Penniman, a founder of Soul Fire Farm in rural New York.

“A heavy snow was falling here in the Taconic Mountain Range outside Albany when Leah Penniman moved to the farm she bought with her husband. It was the day after Christmas, Penniman recalled, ‘and I cried.’ They were not tears of joy.

“Penniman was having second thoughts. ‘I was, like, can we just stay in Albany?’ Her family had left that city’s impoverished South End community because it was a food desert — devoid of grocery stores with fresh produce or sit-down restaurants. But she worried about losing friends she made there. ‘I wasn’t so sure about this rural thing.’ …

“But as the first seedlings grew at the new Soul Fire Farm, so did she. Today, Penniman, 41, is a leading spokesperson for the movement to increase the ranks of Black, Brown and Indigenous farmers. Hundreds of people are on a waiting list to attend her classes on regenerative farming that reduces carbon emissions and mitigates climate change, refuting a belief that Black people and other underrepresented groups do not want to farm. …

“Leah Penniman’s 2018 book, Farming While Black, a guide to regenerative farming that called America’s paucity of Black farmers ‘food apartheid,’ turned heads. …

“According to its 2019 annual report, Soul Fire Farm Institute trained 120 people of color at week-long farming immersions and 905 activists at workshops. The report also said 675 youngsters learned about farming and food justice.

“Four new small farms are in operation partly as a result of those internships: High Hog Farm in Grayson, Ga., 40 miles northwest of Atlanta; Harriett Tubman Freedom Farm in Whitakers, N.C., 15 miles north of Rocky Mount; Catatumbo Cooperative Farm in South Chicago and Sweet Freedom Farm, about 60 miles south of Soul Fire in New York. …

‘What I’m particularly excited about is the capacity for Afro Indigenous regenerative agriculture to participate in carbon drawdowns,’ Leah Penniman said as she dug up potato plants recently at Soul Fire. ‘So we are demonstrating how to capture carbon in the soil using our ancestral methods of no till and composting, all these fabulous ways of growing food and medicine.’ …

“Penniman is part of a cadre of farmers who are teaching new ways of farming, said Ricardo Salvador, who runs the food and environmental service at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“ ‘Her efforts with Soul Fire Farm are an argument that you don’t have to exploit people, you don’t have to exploit nature and still produce abundant, nourishing food for communities,’ he said. ‘She’s training people who come to the farm, who take short courses or do internships … to rethink access to land.’ …

“Soul Fire Farm, a cooperative with several owners, is a member of the National Black Food and Justice Alliance, 30 farming and food activist groups run by Dara Cooper. …

“Fighting discrimination in American farming is central to what the network does, Cooper said. But so is offsetting climate change.

“According to the Environmental Protection Agency, agriculture accounted for 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. Research has shown that traditional farming practices such as tilling and plowing release carbon dioxide when they cut into the earth. …

“Cooper said activists should be wary of lionizing a single person, a mistake the civil rights movement made with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. But she praised Penniman.

“ ‘There is something very special about Leah,’ Cooper said. ‘She’s a farmer, she’s studied, she’s brilliant, she’s an amazing teacher and educator. Anybody who’s attended her talks are fired up and ready to go afterward.’

“Penniman … plunged her hand into the dirt and held it eye level. ‘There’s worms in this soil,’ she said as one inched toward her bare fingers. ‘There’s nematodes in this soil, all kinds of beneficial organisms.’

“She smiled as she admired the habitat — creepy crawlies, bugs and microbes living healthy lives on her family farm, which rejects using pesticides that kill them.

“The worms and millions of tiny organisms have a symbiotic relationship with dirt, and plants sequester greenhouse gases and convert it to an organic form. Trapped in the ground, the gases cannot rise into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. …

“A Netflix documentary Kiss the Ground noted the finding that a 1 percent increase in organic matter in an acre of soil pulls down about 10 tons of carbon dioxide.

“ ‘Agriculture is the biggest way humans impact our landscape,’ Kristin Ohlson, author of The Soil Will Save Us, says in the film. ‘We have unleashed through agriculture over the centuries millennia of carbon from the land, and now it’s part of that legacy load of carbon dioxide.’ “

Read more about Penniman’s intriguing backstory at the Post, here.

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Photo: Facebook.
Jonny Rhodes, owner of the acclaimed Houston restaurant Indigo, is putting his energy and reputation behind a social justice movement focused on food.

I’ve written a lot of posts about food deserts and efforts nationwide to help low-income communities get access to fresh and nourishing produce. Today’s story adds to the series, highlighting how a successful Houston restaurateur decided to make food equity his business.

Victoria Marin writes at the Washington Post, “By most accounts, Houston chef Jonathan ‘Jonny’ Rhodes has already achieved tremendous success. Just a few years removed from culinary school, he has worked in several Michelin-starred kitchens and is running his own celebrated restaurant. Nonetheless, he says, everything in his career has brought him to this moment, confronting food justice against the backdrop of what is perhaps the biggest movement against … police violence in history. …

“A restaurant, even a revered one, has never been enough for Rhodes, who says the pathway to real freedom is through the security and sustainability that comes with land ownership. He has been laying the groundwork since he opened his neo-soul food restaurant, Indigo, by building out a market of preserved and canned pantry items supplemented by produce from the modest garden next door. His intention: to eventually open a full-service grocery store and, further down the line, start a farm to supply the store

“Rhodes decided to open Indigo in Houston’s Northline neighborhood, just outside of where he grew up, in part because he wanted to prove that fine dining belonged there, even if local law enforcement — and some Yelp reviewers — may have thought otherwise. But he has long had bigger aspirations for the project he undertook two years ago: He wants [to show our] ‘people what we’re capable of. … It makes them curious. And as it makes them curious, they create, they start asking questions. And when they start asking questions, they create their own ideas, and ideas are dangerous to the establishment — so instead of telling people to stay safe, we tell them to stay dangerous.

“What constitutes ‘staying dangerous’ in Rhodes’s mind? It starts with Indigo’s unconventional, barrier-breaking premise: The five-course soul food menu is made up of dishes designed as much to convey flavor and beauty as to elicit dialogue about the food history of the African diaspora, with such names as Violence of Hunger; Hijabs, Hoodies & Afros; and Descendants of Igbo. Everything that’s cooked is prepared over a wood-fired grill because it’s historically accurate and because Rhodes and his team … couldn’t afford the $10,000 necessary to install a gas kitchen when they opened. Once or twice during the meal, Rhodes steps into the dining room, surrounded by African art, books about slave foodways and posters emblazoned with revolutionary quotes, and presents a deft treatise on the inspiration behind each dish, encouraging guests to consider the intersections between past and present. …

“The 13-seat restaurant, which offers only two seatings per night, four nights per week, has become one of the most coveted reservations going. But reviews and awards have never been Rhodes’s goal. And neither is just conversation, though conversation is a big part of the Indigo experience. … For Rhodes, who served in the Marines before starting a family, going to culinary school and then getting a degree in history, the war for natural resources has long been an apt metaphor for the black American experience. ‘African Americans have been subdued because we don’t control any natural resources,’ he says. …

“The communities Rhodes describes are commonly called ‘food deserts,’ usually densely populated neighborhoods marked by a severe lack of fresh produce coupled with an often devastating abundance of alcohol and processed food. But Rhodes and other food justice advocates around the country consider the term a misnomer. A more accurate phrase, they say, is ‘food apartheid.’ …

“According to Karen Washington, co-founder of New York City’s Rise and Root Farm, calling it apartheid allows us to ‘look at the whole food system, along with race, geography, faith and economics. You say “food apartheid,” and you get to the root cause of some of the problems around the food system. It brings in hunger and poverty.’ …

“Covid-19 has disproportionately laid siege on black Americans, something Rhodes sees as inseparable from food apartheid because of the interconnectedness between urban blight, food insecurity and health-care inaccessibility. The pandemic expedited his team’s plans. When states started shutting down in March, Indigo closed for a few weeks and then, like many other restaurants across the country, pivoted to groceries when it reopened. Unlike most other restaurants, though, Broham Fine Soul Food and Groceries isn’t a temporary endeavor. Rhodes is seizing this opportunity to do his part to dismantle food apartheid, through a sustainable, community-oriented, black-centered soul food market. …

“For Rhodes, this moment is ripe with possibility: Earlier this year, he and his team purchased six acres of land just outside the city so they can start farming on a larger scale. (Always resourceful, they’re repurposing the wood they’re clearing for cooking, building fencing and growing mushrooms.)”

More at the Post, here. Additional information at Houstonia magazine, here.

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Photo: David L. Ryan/Globe Staff.
A customer got groceries at the Fresh Truck stop in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston.

When I was a kid, my mother sometimes bought vegetables from Mr. Mackey. Mr. Mackey was a “huckster” who came around in an old school bus, repainted blue and outfitted like a produce market. I think my mother patronized this project because it charmed her. Earle and Caroline’s mother, Grace, was more practical. She may have tested Mr. Mackey’s wares once or twice, but she objected that he was overpriced. As indeed he was.

But if nothing else, there’s something to be said for the memories generated by such “old tyme” services. My husband likes to talk about a knife grinder who frequented his childhood neighborhood. And ever since the pandemic inspired me to start getting milk delivered in glass bottles, I feel like I’m not only reducing plastic waste but preserving a happy tradition.

As to repurposed school buses carrying produce, Diana Bravo reports at the Boston Globe about a few that are now serving “food deserts” in the Boston area.

Fresh Truck “co-founder Josh Trautwein was working as a health educator at MGH Charlestown Healthcare Center,” she writes, “when he heard from local families that it was difficult to shop for healthy food because the only local grocery store was shut down for a yearlong renovation. That inspired Trautwein to start About Fresh, which operates a program called Fresh Truck to bring affordable, healthy food into Boston communities that need it most.

“The nonprofit purchases food wholesale, and during the growing season Fresh Truck buys from local growers and resells the food at around the same price to help families keep nutritious food on the table at affordable prices.

“The nonprofit operates three retrofitted school buses that have been converted to mobile grocery stores. The trucks accept a variety of payments. Beyond cash and credit, they also accept Electronic Benefit Transfer, Healthy Incentives Program, and Fresh Connect. … Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, mobile markets would allow customers to board and shop on the three buses at 18 locations. But at the height of the pandemic, that was not possible. …

“After a brief shutdown, the program reopened with an open-air plan. Now, at most locations, customers order outside the bus while volunteers shop and package their orders.

“Customers order online in advance and pick up their produce at four locations. [Victoria Strickland, director of communications and partnerships for About Fresh,] says this has been beneficial to the nonprofit’s senior and disabled customers. As a result, Fresh Trucks hopes to continue and expand online ordering beyond the end of the pandemic.”

Sure beats food shopping for your family at “convenience” stores, where in addition to pretzels, Coke, and canned soup, a couple hard, bland apples are likely to be unconscionably marked up.

More at the Boston Globe, here. By the way, I have posted a lot of stories on how other people are addressing the challenge of food deserts. Just search on the phrase in the search box above if you’re interested.

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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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I’m hoping someone from my deep past will remember the name of the man who used to travel to my growing-up neighborhood in a blue-painted school bus to sell fruits and vegetables. The name “Mr. Mackey” is clawing itself to the surface, but I may have that wrong.

I had flashbacks about the huckster today when I read about the Fresh
Truck, an old idea made new in a time of urban food deserts and locavore sensibilities.

Christina Reinwald wrote the story for the Boston Globe.

“A food bus began to roll down the city’s streets Thursday. The retrofitted school bus, the brainchild of a Boston start-up called Fresh Truck, is expected to visit Boston communities that don’t have nearby grocery stores, selling fruits and vegetables.

“Fresh Truck founders Josh Trautwein and Daniel Clarke, recent Northeastern University graduates, came up with the idea last year and work full time now to serve neighborhoods in need of more healthful food options. …

“Fresh Truck raised more than $32,000 from over 300 contributors to its Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign earlier this year. It also received private donations to get started.

“Starting Monday outside the New England Baptist Hospital in Roxbury, Fresh Truck will sell its produce for about 20 percent less than average grocery prices, Trautwein said.

“Avoiding the traditional brick-and-mortar shop eliminates many operating costs for Fresh Truck.” More.

Photo: Yoon S. Byun/ Globe Staff
A food bus run by Fresh Truck, a Boston start-up, aims to serve neighborhoods in need of more healthful food options.

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More good news from the Christian Science Monitor‘s Change Agent series.

Cathryn J. Prince reports that Brass City Harvest in Waterbury is expanding its farmers market to a year-round venue for nourishing food.

Just behind the table that is Brass City’s office, Prince writes, “two large pools await the arrival of trout. Outside stand raised-bed gardens. Some are filled with Asian eggplants, others with tomatoes hanging like Christmas ornaments from the vine.

“Nonprofit Brass City Harvest operates the ‘Connecticut Grown’ farmers markets in Waterbury, providing what its executive director, Susan Pronovost, calls ‘real food’ for hungry people. And next month Brass City Harvest will open a year-round farmers market, selling produce and goods produced by about eight Connecticut farms. …

“The new market will be a food hub, Ms. Pronovost says. According to the US Department of Agriculture, one-third of Waterbury is a ‘food desert.’ That means that either at least 500 people, or 33 percent of the population, have a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher and live more than one mile from a supermarket or grocery store.

“ ‘People are hungry. They knock at our door and ask if we have something,’ Pronovost says. …

“Thinking there must be a better way to feed people Pronovost started Brass City Harvest in 2007. Today it’s a seven-day-a-week operation that sponsors two farmers markets. Brass City’s staff includes a nutritionist, nurse, and social worker. It also offers vocational training to homeless men.

“Still, Pronovost thought more could be done to keep the supply of fresh food and produce flowing year round.

“After visiting Halifax, Nova Scotia, and St. John, New Brunswick, this summer, she says the year-round indoor markets in those cities there inspired her.

“ ‘If people to the north can do it, we certainly can,’ she says. …

“Brass City itself sits on top of a brownfield. The soil is filled with lead and other hazardous materials, Pronovost says. The City of Waterbury inherited the lot and had three choices – leave it alone, dig 30 feet down and replace the soil, or pour a concrete cap over the toxic soil. The city chose to cover the area with concrete. Brass Harvest has built its raised bed gardens over the concrete.” More.

Photograph: Cathryn J. Prince
Brass City Harvest operates an urban garden.This month it is adding a year-round farmers market supplied by nearby Connecticut farms, says Susan Pronovost, executive director of Brass City Harvest.

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I’m looking forward to the farmers market season, and I’m not the only one. More and more consumers are demanding really fresh food. Fortunately, farmers are increasingly creative about getting that fresh food to consumers.

Now farmers markets are going online. I learned about this via the Christian Science Monitor, which points to an article by Katherine Gustafson for YES! magazine.

Gustafson writes that small producers are using the Internet more.

“Smart use of the Web,” she writes, “can shift the focus of food retail away from industrial suppliers and toward those in the position to offer on-demand delivery of the freshest food around. …

“One example I found particularly inspiring was the Farmers Fresh Market program run by the Foothills Connect Business and Technology Center in Rutherfordton, N.C.

“The organization created a proprietary online system to allow individuals and businesses in nearby cities to order fresh produce from growers local to Rutherfordton. In many cases, the growers pick the food the same day the buyers receive it.”

What’s not to love? Read more.

Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/file

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