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Unwelcoming Committee: Online Grocer Faces Opposition in the South Bronx

Ordering food on the Internet can offer a reprieve from the drudgery of the grocery store. A few quick clicks and you have ingredients for dinner without getting in a car or lugging bags of food on a bus or train. But while it may seem like online services allow groceries to magically appear at our doorsteps, there are, in fact, still quite a few warehouses, refrigerators, and trucks involved. Read more

New Agtivists: Brother-Sister Duo Revamp The Corner Store

Alison Cross and her older brother Alphonzo saw a vast need for fresh food in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood of Atlanta, where they’d spent time since they were kids. The community, which is adjacent to the Atlanta University Center, had seen both vibrance and decay, and was begging for transformation.

So the siblings decided to fill that need, and hatched a plan to open The Boxcar Grocer, a new food business. Alison, who studied architecture and worked as a video editor, and Alphonzo, with a background in fashion, describe the independent grocery store, which stocks local, organic, whole foods, as being at “the intersection of food justice and high-concept retail.”

And they’re right; it’s not your average corner store. The market looks modern, with lots of light, stainless steel, and wood. The shop, which had a “soft” opening in late October and celebrated its grand opening last Monday, sits in an area dotted with old railroad warehouses. African Americans own the majority of the storefront businesses. The neighborhood is undergoing a renaissance with small art galleries, graphic design firms, and a tattoo parlor that attract the typical urban mix of students, artists, and free thinkers.

Alison, 36, has also written about the personal inspiration for Boxcar (“This is Our Land“), the socioeconomic challenges of the food movement (“All the Foodies are Rich, All of the Farmers are White, But Some of Us are Still Cookin’“), and its shortcomings (“A Limited Engagement“) on the store’s blog.

I spoke with her recently about her hopes for the family business and the obstacles she and her brother have faced along the way. Read more

Hunger In The Fields

Across the United States, farmworkers are having difficulty getting enough to eat. And they’re not alone: Rural communities as a whole are poorer and less able to feed themselves than their urban counterparts. In regions where our food is being grown, access to it is limited and the people who grow it are unable to afford it when it is available. Lack of transportation, fear, and other social issues increase farmworkers’ isolation and limit their food choices even more. The food security movement, working to increase access for communities at risk of hunger, tends to overlook rural people–and especially those who work in the fields. Read more

Cleveland’s Food Justice Hero: Councilman Joe Cimperman

The surprise darling of the Community Food Security Coalition conference last May was a little-known city councilman from Cleveland. He spoke fervently about his city, a city of flourishing community gardens, backyard bee hives, and chicken coops, a city where all farmers’ markets accept food stamps, where schools get discounts for sourcing local food, and where both trans-fats and smoking on playgrounds are banned. His name? Joe Cimperman.

A 4th term Democratic city councilman whose parents hail from Slovenia, Cimperman is a vocal advocate of community gardens, which create community and self-sufficiency. He told of coming together with community leaders, public health officials, doctors, and foundations to pass the Healthy Cleveland Initiative — a series of audacious policy goals that will improve the health of Clevelanders for years to come. (That is, if Ohio’s Republican-majority legislature doesn’t pre-emptively squash them.) He ended with this rallying cry: “Why are we in food policy? Because we want our friends to live longer!”

What are Cleveland’s secrets for becoming a food justice utopia? I recently interviewed Cimperman to find out. Read more

Teaching the Way: How D.C. (and the Rest of the Country) Can Eliminate Food Deserts

Washington, D.C. sports its proud identity as the nation’s capital, but it also suffers the typical problems of urban blight, including food deserts, impoverished areas with limited access to healthy food. Almost 16,000 people reside in such food deserts within the city.

Fortunately, a number of forward-thinking organizations have resolved to end food insecurity in the nation’s capital through food access, affordability, and community education. As a result, D.C. capitalizes on its dual local/national character and acts as a role model for initiatives that support access to good food throughout the nation.

How do we lead the shift from processed, unhealthy products to fresh, nutritious food? While accessibility and affordability are certainly crucial, community education is a key component, notes Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s Michael Babin, and founder of the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture. Read more

L.A.’s Grocery Chains Don’t Make the Grade

Access to fresh, nutritious, affordable food is one of the most important factors in quality of life, personal well-being, and the overall health of a community. Areas in which there is limited access to wholesome food—often called “food deserts”—are starting to receive the attention they desperately need. Earlier this year, the Obama administration launched the $400 million Healthy Food Financing Initiative, but change is slow to come and requires action at the local level.

The Alliance for Healthy and Responsible Grocery Stores, a coalition of more than 30 community, faith, and labor leaders, is taking that action in Los Angeles. Sounding the alarm, they just released the first-ever Grocery Chain Scorecard. The report issues grades to grocery chains on three key areas: Food access, store quality, and job quality. Read more

Wave of Change at Farmers’ Markets: An Interview with Michel Nischan

A recent report by the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC) and Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) called “Real Food, Real Choice: Connecting SNAP Recipients with Farmers Markets,” gives detail to the economic, social and technological roadblocks that often prevent many Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants from buying fresh and healthy food at their  local, or not so local, farmers markets. Is the real issue access or affordability? Michel Nischan, CEO and President of Wholesome Wave, talks about how their innovative programs are helping to avert a national health care crisis. Read more

Last Mile Access: Let the Hotel Valet Open the Door to a Food Conversation

The valet made me do it. We bared our souls and talked with each other about food. We did it in the middle of the tastefully decorated lobby of a reputable Cannery Row hotel in Monterey, CA. It began as a very unexpected moment, and has become one of my all-time favorite experiences talking about access to good food. Because it was a conversation not with a chef, foodie or expert. It was with a regular person who longs to connect to food and is somehow stuck, marooned on an island alone, full of latent desire.

The valet—let’s call him Paul—asked me the very question I yearn to hear, and with him I had the discussion that I never tire of. Paul had parked my car when I checked into the hotel, had smiled professionally at me and held the door three mornings in a row when I sashayed excitedly out into the sunlight. The cause of my excitement was a food issue conference hosted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The Cooking for Solutions Sustainable Media Institute is an annual gathering of journalists and experts who cover food system issues ranging from sustainable seafood to GMOs. It is the highlight of my year, second only to the Ecological Farming Association annual meeting. Read more