Recent Articles About Food Deserts

New Hip Hop Video Undescores What’s at Stake in the Food Fight

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

Demand Good, Sustainable Food Retail Jobs to Fight Food Deserts

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

Eradicating Food Deserts One Congregation at a Time

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

A Grocery Store For The People Planned For West Oakland Food Desert

Brahm Ahmadi spends a lot of time thinking about something most people take for granted: grocery stores.

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

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