Americans cultivate an estimated 18,000 community gardens, and now more of their growing is taking place in city lots and building rooftops. Urban gardeners see numerous benefits, from a heightened sense of empowerment to a lighter grocery bill to lowered crime rates. Yet challenges to such projects inevitably spring up like crab grass. Read more
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Participant Media Films has a provocative mission. Through their films and partnerships with companies and organizations, they create social action campaigns, with the hope to entertain their viewers and ignite dialogue around world issues. Many of their mainstream documentaries of the last decade declare that our food system is broken. Films on fast food, animal welfare, factory farming, and now hunger have entered our dialogue to expose parts of the system that need fixing and reform.
Their new food documentary, A Place at the Table, seeks to uncover the stories of a few families who face poor quality of life and food insecurity due to lack of nourishing food in their daily lives. Read more
Health advocates and food advocates struggle with ways to make a dent in the obesity epidemic in this country. One thing we know is that there is no one size fits all program or initiative that is going to reduce the number of obese or overweight people. In communities of color–where one in five children are obese or overweight–including nuanced and impactful and resonating messages that work hasn’t been easy.
Recently, musician, and Bay Area food activist AshEl put his concerns about the way we eat to music, in the song Food Fight! He asked filmmaker Ben Zolno, of New Message Media, to help him create a music video for the song. Read more
In his State of the Union Address this month, President Obama called for a much- needed increase to the federal minimum wage. Almost four million American workers are paid at or below the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour for their work, adding up to about $15,000 per year, per person for a full-time, 40 hour per week job. This doesn’t come close to covering the cost of living for a single person, let alone a family.
In the food retail sector, unfortunately, raising the minimum wage might not make much of a difference to those employees that are most vulnerable. Grocery stores and other food retail outlets are already avoiding minimum wage and benefit requirements for many workers by keeping them in part-time jobs. Realistically, if a worker can’t get scheduled for 40 hours per week of work, then minimum wage requirements cease to be effective in ensuring an annual income floor. Read more
New York Times columnist Roger Cohen says that organic food is elitist, and assumes that the only people who demand healthy, pesticide-free food are well-off Whole Foods shoppers. Well, I don’t know how else to put it: he’s wrong.
All across the country—in Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Oakland, Milwaukee, and New York, just to name a few—residents of low-income neighborhoods have rallied to get healthy food into their communities. There are hundreds of nonprofits dedicated to building organic gardens in peoples’ backyards, teaching inner-city kids how to cook nutritious meals, or boosting fresh produce in corner stores.
In Oregon, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO), has been a pioneer of food justice. For over 15 years, the association’s Interfaith Food & Farms Partnership (IFFP) has helped churches, synagogues, Muslim community centers, and Hindu temples source healthy, organic food from local farms. Read more
But it hasn’t always been this way. As one of the founders of the nonprofit People’s Grocery in West Oakland—the Bay Area’s most notorious food desert—he and his colleagues started out with more affordable, less ambitious projects, like a mobile food delivery service and a local community-supported agriculture (CSA) box. But it quickly became clear—as several grocery chains tried to enter the neighborhood and failed, and residents were left relying on corner stores or taking long trips by public transportation to other neighborhoods—that the area needed a reliable, independent grocery store. Read more
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
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
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
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