Recent Articles About Food Deserts

A Food Desert in Paradise: Solving Hawaii’s Fresh Vegetable Problem

Sam Kalalau, a Native Hawaiian who lives in the isolated, rural town of Hana on Maui’s eastern edge, has a dream for his people, many of whom suffer from chronic conditions with dietary links such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Hana is known mostly for its lushness, postcard-perfect beaches, and spectacular oceans views, and less so for its fertile fields. But this produce whisperer helps run Hana Fresh Farm, a seven-acre, certified organic farm situated on a gentle slope and filled with tropical fruit trees, heirloom greens, and fragrant herbs. The 60-year-old also seeks to educate locals and visitors alike about the health benefits of homegrown foods like avocado and papaya over the canned and processed goods transported from the mainland. Read more

The Fight Over Food Deserts Starts with Fair Wages

This June the City of Chicago approved Walmart’s bid to open up dozens of new facilities, beginning with grocery stores in the city’s chronically underserved South side. Just a month earlier the company committed $2 billion dollars to fight hunger in the U.S. But behind the high profile donations is a decidedly less charitable story repeating itself throughout corporate America.

In large part fueled by Michelle Obama’s goal to eliminate food deserts in seven years, Walmart has set the PR machine in motion around its new battle cry: “The Great Grocery Smackdown:” Read more

All Praise the Civics of Food Hubs

Just a few years ago there were but a smattering of “networks that allow regional growers to collaborate on marketing and distribution,” as Grist writer Claire Thompson observed, “networks that include a broad range of operations, from multi-farm CSAs to Craigslist-like virtual markets where buyers and producers can connect.”

Today, news stories about such food hubs are as frequent as a retweeted Mark Bittman article. With a big-tent definition, the USDA lists over 160 in operation from non-profits to private for-profit models. The East Coast is in the vanguard; New York, Virginia, North Carolina, and Vermont host the most. More remarkable than their media-worthy increase in numbers, is that food hubs are a wonderful example of the best face of the food movement’s transition beyond an earlier focus on labeling, markets, and matters of quantity, toward broader cultural issues of justice, sovereignty, and community. Read more

From Backyard Farmer to Community Visionary in Oakland

Abeni Ramsey started growing food in her West Oakland backyard when she was a college-aged single mom who wanted her kids to eat better food than what they could afford. Some seven years later, she’s well known among the Bay Area food community, selling produce from her business, City Girl Farms, to local restaurants and through a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. Now she plans to open an urban farm store and restaurant in Oakland, and is working with a partner to start farming on 220 acres about an hour outside the Bay Area. I caught up with Ramsey recently to learn more about her involvement in the local food movement and her plans for the future. Read more

How the London Olympics Will Revolutionize Food

Olympic training regimens are the stuff of legend, but here’s one you probably haven’t heard of: spend 18 hours a day for five years researching every fresh, healthy, comestible, and delicious recipe the host nation can muster—and then be ready to serve them all at lightning speed.

It’s a new sport, launched by an intrepid group of food planners charged with feeding the athletes—and everyone else—at the London-based Games of the XXX Olympiad, which kick off officially today. Over a total of 27 days, 14 million meals will be consumed at 44 venues in and around the city. The athletes alone will pack away 1.2 million of them—65,000 on the busiest day.

The food for what has been described as the largest peacetime catering operation in the world is measured in tonnes (2,200 pounds), as in: a staggering 330 tonnes of fruits and “veg”; 100 tonnes of meat; 21 tonnes of cheese. But that’s the warm-up. If a “Food Vision” meticulously plotted under the auspices of the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) succeeds, it will lead the way to a much bigger prize: a new standard for the procurement and consumption of healthy, regionally sourced, environmentally sustainable food in London and beyond. Read more

Detroit: A Tale of Two… Farms?

recent article in The Wall Street Journal celebrated the Hantz Farms project to establish a 10,000 acre private farm in Detroit. The project hinges on a very large land deal offered by financial services magnate John Hantz to buy up over 2,000 empty lots from the city of Detroit. Hantz’s ostensible objective is to establish the world’s largest urban mega-farm.

I say “ostensible” because despite futuristic artists’ renderings of Hantz Farms’ urban greenhouses, presently John Hantz is actually growing trees rather than food. The project website invites us to imagine “high-value trees… in even-spaced rows” on a three-acre pilot site recently cleaned, cleared and planted to hardwood saplings. These trees, it seems, are just a first step in establishing a 200 acre forest and eventually–pending approval by the City Council–the full Hantz megafarm.

In the short run, the purchase by Hantz cleans things up, puts foreclosed lots back on the tax rolls and relieves the city of maintenance responsibilities. If the tree farm expands, it could provide a few jobs. In the long run, however, Hantz hopes his farm will create land scarcity in order to push up property values–property that he will own a lot of. Read more

FoodHub Uses Online Social Networking to Get Farm-fresh Food to School Cafeterias

Sometimes it’s hard to see what’s right in front of you. For many individuals and institutions, the problem with switching to local food purchases isn’t that people are unwilling or unenthusiastic, it’s that many just don’t know where to look. With our daily lives moving at breakneck speed amidst a flurry of tweets, emails, and texts, we often find ourselves paying more attention to the screens in front of us than the world in which we live. Organizations around the country are taking advantage of this period of technological innovation by developing virtual tools to help open our eyes to the bounty of our local food systems.

One such organization is Ecotrust based in Portland, Ore. Two years ago, they launched FoodHub, a social networking tool that revitalizes regional agriculture by helping farmers and buyers find one another online, often in a matter of minutes. Read more

Occupy the Farm: A Model of Resistance

We all know that “Every Day is Earth Day” and many environmentalists feel that their eating habits are their daily affirmation of a commitment to the planet. But what does it look like to take action for the environment, beyond the fork? There are many options, of course, but one particularly inspirational tactic manifested this past Earth Day in Albany, CA.

On April 22, a week after the International Day of Peasant Struggle, hundreds of Bay Area food sovereignty activists and community members broke the locks on a huge piece of urban agricultural land, tore up mustard weeds, and planted veggies. “Occupy the Farm” was organized as an occupy-style protest, including tent encampments and a “farmers assembly,” but with one very meaningful difference: This act of “moral obedience” (AKA civil disobedience) was the direct outgrowth of years of neighborhood organizing around the piece of land in question. Read more

Growing Hope by Growing Cities

I grew up planting pumpkins in the backyard with my mom and dad.  With names like “Big Max,” “Atlantic Giant,” and “King Jack,” I always hoped come fall I might end up like James and the Giant Peach.  Each spring I would eagerly plant my seeds, carefully cover them with soil, and do my best to nurse them through the sweltering Nebraska summers.  Evil squash bugs and ever-looming drought aside, I usually ended up with at least one pumpkin that weighed more than I did.

Even though soccer practices (and later, girlfriends) kept me away from the garden for a few years, I’ve always had that experience to show me the importance of growing food.  Whether it was the magic of a tiny seed growing into something so huge (unfortunately, never like James’ peach) or the extra responsibility I felt for caring for another living thing, I understood that this was something essential.  However, it wasn’t until I traveled over 12,000 miles across the country for my film, Growing Cities, that I realized how lucky I was. Read more

The Revolution Will Be Cofed

Young food movement activists may be idealistic but we are not flower children. We are process and results-oriented; we may criticize, but also we learn from successful business models. We’re comfortable with money, know how to network and are handy with a spreadsheet.

Three years ago, I was organizing protests at UC Berkeley. Now I’m at my laptop, speaking with Camilla Bustamante, a Northern New Mexico College Dean.  She’s enthusiastically telling me about a student-run, local foods cafe that has just opened at her campus. Read more