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Posts Tagged ‘food desert’

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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