NYC addresses fresh food deserts. So can we.

Picture 4

As depicted in Wednesday’s NY Times, city government and community organizations have teamed up to create a pushcart business model that provides poor communities and minority communities access to fresh food options–like everyone else. Multi-sector commitment and real collaboration is the right idea for Springfield and Holyoke, too. We just completed a series of resident focus groups in the North End of Springfield, and almost everyone identified access to healthy, fresh, affordable food as the biggest problem. And I wrote about MIT’s North End interactive Google food map here.

Continuing the NYC pushcart theme, here’s another example (NYT 4/3/09) of this nonprofit-municipal-business combo from my friends at the Center for Urban Pedagogy (see photos below). In this case, design plays a major role, and I love that. TSM Design in downtown Springfield has been extremely supportive of the The Springfield Institute (and several other organizations in Springfield), and I think you’ll start to notice their contributions around our office and on this web site in the coming months….


7 Responses

  1. This is probably the one issue that best ties together culture, community, education, and economics. Food is the most intimate and the most public expression of our whole social and economic fabric. People have a felt need for healthy food, and all these focus groups are able to say so. But then, we come up against the economic realities of the marketing system, and we can’t seem to break through them.

    It’s ironic that the photo Aron published this week to accompany his comment on the expectation gap in education also illustrates our expectation gap in food and nutrition: the “Holyoke Youth Commission members contributing to the Holyoke Food & Fitness Policy Council” are shown chowing down on a giant bottle of coke and a stack of pizza boxes.

    That problem isn’t limited to low-income communities. Even when fresh produce is available and there’s plenty of money, what community has the time and cultural cohesion to pause and make a jug of some refreshing and nutritious local version of papaya horchada, or cook a fragrant and wholesome dish with the spices and produce we may remember (if we’re very lucky) from our own childhood, and then get it to the kids while they do their community work? How are the kids learning to obtain, prepare, and share the foods of their own cultural heritage?

    In the early 20th century, John Dewey and the progressive education movement succeeded in building schools all across the heartland of America equipped with child-scaled kitchens. Children love to learn about food and nutrition and human culture by participating in selecting and preparing food, and families and communities love to come together to share food.

    We have a lot of work to do, to recover this even as an ideal, but one piece we have to have in place is economic and geographic access to fresh food. Here is a model for how to take it on. Let’s do it.

  2. As project staff for the Holyoke Food & Fitness Policy Council, I want to thank Mary for her comments and respond to a couple of her points because they are closely linked to where we are currently and where we are heading.

    First, Food & Fitness did not supply the food for the meeting pictured in Aron’s post, but that is not really the point. We have heard many times across our membership that people do not want to eat pizza and soda at meetings, and we do have nutritional standards in place for foods we provide at our meetings based on the Mass. Dept. of Public Health Healthy Meeting Guidelines. The youth have been eating more nutritious options at recent meetings – I just went one last week where we ate tacos with fruit juice & sparkling water.

    Second, and more importantly, the food system goals established by community, youth and agency members working together are fundamentally based on the very premise Mary mentions – the connectivity of food to human and society’s most basic functions and the effectiveness of experiential education. The youth have emphasized repetitively that part of the integrity of this project relies on the message sent by the food served at events/meetings, and they are taking the initiative to design and plan a community feast project that will create a space for youth to obtain, prepare and share the foods of their own cultural heritage, as Mary wrote. Some of the youth will be traveling to Seattle in July to see and experience the youth feast project happening there and bring back their experiences to make it happen in their own way in Holyoke. The other priority issue is the food environment and access to affordable healthy food options. More than once we have run into problems trying to place an order for a locally catered “light” lunch of sandwiches or wraps without having to also get chips, soda and a gigantic tray of desserts. Since the closing of Artisan’s Cafe, there has definitely been a lack of restaurants that cater/deliver and meet our nutritional guidelines. Also as part of our efforts, we offered a free personal nutrition class in Spanish through a partnership with Holyoke Community College, and those many of those residents contributed to a bilingual community cookbook called “Healthy in Holyoke.”

    There is much more that could be said, and I welcome anyone interested to learn more to join the discussion around how we are going to increase access to healthy, affordable, culturally appropriate food in Holyoke.

    • Yes, this is the kind of food desert we are all talking about. For example, consider the MIT food mapping project in the North End of Springfield that found there really aren’t any healthy walkable food options. It would have been easy to blame the food retailers. But it’s not just jargon when we say food SYSTEM. These urgent problems won’t get solved by laying blame on any one element, or even symptom, of the problem like Coke at a youth meeting, or bodega owners selling unhealthy food. I agree that Coke bottle is an important image in the photo. And it’s a reminder of how entrenched the system is that we’re trying to turn upside down. That said, you can tell we’ve got al the “ingredients” we need to make this transformation happen. Thank you, Mary and Laura.

  3. I should also mention that we have had several conversations with the folks in NYC managing the green cart program and are discussing ways to implement a similar project in Holyoke based on the overwhelmingly supportive response to purchasing fruits and vegetables from a mobile market or cart found from our 1000-person community survey. The NYC project is barely a year old and so it is hard to measure the impact it has had so far, and NYC certainly as a very active and competitive vendor culture that is different in smaller communities like Holyoke.

  4. Yes! Can we figure out how to get CUP up here? They would be perfect.

  5. […] previously blogged about how New York City is addressing the lack of fresh food in poor communities by creating a […]

  6. […] disparities are exacerbated by pervasive poverty, which makes healthier food inaccessible (food […]

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