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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 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

Is Walmart’s March into Cities Helping or Hurting?

Having saturated the rural landscape, shuttering local stores in small town America along the way, now, in the wake of stagnant sales and increased competition, Walmart desperately needs to expand into urban markets.

And what better urban market than one full of eight million people? While the big box retailer is eager to enter the Big Apple, challenges loom large. Given the negative reputation Walmart has earned for being hostile to workers among other problems, many New Yorkers are skeptical, to put it mildly.

To counter the opposition, Walmart is positioning itself as the solution to urban food deserts – areas where finding real food is next to impossible. But as Anna Lappé has eloquently argued, the big box chain isn’t the answer: “Let’s be clear, expanding into so-called food deserts is an expansion strategy for Walmart. It’s not a charitable move.” Read more

Eggs-Change Turning the Organic Affordability Question on its Head

We get it. Organic food typically costs more than conventional, that that’s a significant barrier for people under financial strain. Food activists are working toward big-picture, systems-wide changes that could make organic food more affordable, but in the meantime one company in New York State is trying to make organic food more affordable and accessible–one dozen eggs at a time. Read more

Securing A Food Future In Cities: A Case Study In Repurposing Military Bases

The Alameda Point Collaborative Urban Farm is a one-acre farm growing a variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, eggs, honey, and–with the introduction of new aquaculture ponds–will soon offer fish as well. Neat rows of plants are surrounded by olive and stone fruit orchards, but beyond this farm, towering cranes are positioned on the horizon. This farm is in a unique location. Read more

“First Food” is Real Food Justice

I’ve got a problem with the food system conversation in the U.S.  It neglects to include what I call the “first food”—breast milk—and emphasize the critical importance of breastfeeding. No conversation about equitable food systems can truly exist without including the first food and understanding how the racial and social inequities around breastfeeding adversely affect vulnerable populations.

If access to healthy food is a basic human right then doesn’t that right start at birth? Shouldn’t our smallest and most vulnerable citizens have fair and just access to the healthiest food for them?

Consider the facts: For the past 30 years, breastfeeding rates among black women, particularly those in underserved, food desert communities, have been significantly lower than all other ethnicities. In the U.S., African American infants are more than twice as likely to die before their first birthday than other infants. In some cities, the stats are even more sobering: Memphis, Tennessee ranks at the top of the list for infant deaths in American cities—where a baby dies every 43 hours. Read more

Financing Measure Could Boost Farm Production in Food Deserts

First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity moved forward last Wednesday with her announcement that grocery chains have agreed to open or expand 1,500 stores in urban and rural “food deserts” nationwide.  She did not say who would be growing all the anticipated fruits and vegetables.

Many believe local farmers and businesses could help supply these retail outlets, and grow new jobs in the process, if provided more business development support.  America’s largest farm finance network, the Farm Credit System (FCS), is considering a proposed regulatory rule that could help deploy such expertise. 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