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Blog

Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Filtering by Tag: grocer

Shabazz Food Hub connects farms and cities

Cassandra West

A young volunteer at Shabazz Food Hub Market Days By Susan Richardson The smell of mustard greens sautéed in olive oil with garlic fills the air in an auditorium at Betty Shabazz International Charter School in Chicago.  People browse and buy produce and seedlings on a Saturday afternoon. It is Market Day at the Shabazz Food Hub.

Twice a month, hub members come to pick up preordered produce; others shop for greens, millet, papaya, sunflower seeds and other healthy foods.  And vendors sell items including homemade bean pies and organic juices, completing the menu.

The food hub is a project of the charter school and Black Oaks Center for Sustainable Renewable Living, an eco-campus and farm in Pembroke Township that seeks to restore the link between African-Americans and their agrarian past, encourage collective economics and promote health and locally grown food.  Based in the historically black farming community about an hour from Chicago, the Center  sponsors training sessions for students and others, teaching them about composting and growing their own food and the politics and history of food production and distribution.

Shabazz Food Hub is one of two food centers in Chicago sponsored by Black Oaks.  The other is run through the office of Dr. Jifunza Wright Carter, who, with her husband, Fred Carter, founded the Center.

“Ideally we want to have hubs that sort of dot the city and in different areas where there is not access to the food,” said Mike Strode, coordinator of the Shabazz Food Hub and parent of a daughter at the charter school.

U.S. consumers are growing more aware of the ills of processed foods and the dangers of a global food delivery system that ships vegetables, fruits and meat thousands of miles from their point of origin.  Transporting the food across the globe threatens the environment and also raises food security issues in an age of terrorism and volatile political conflicts.

In African-American communities, access to healthy food has become a public health, social justice and economic rights issue.  Studies show the link between access to healthy food and food-related illness. Blacks suffer from diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure at higher rates than whites, yet are least likely to have a quality grocer in their neighborhoods.

Research from Policy Link, an advocacy organization that works for food justice, reports that 8 percent of African -Americans live in a census tract with a supermarket, compared to 31 percent of whites.  A report by Policy Link and the Food Trust recommends developing retail outlets such as farmers’ markets, coops, farm stands, mobile vendors, and other community-supported agriculture programs to help address health disparities and encourage economic development.

At the Shabazz Charter School students are served vegetarian meals and food has long been a part of the educational process, said Strode.  Launched in November 2009,  the hub makes it easier for parents and the surrounding community to embrace a healthier diet. In addition, the Shabazz Food Hub connects with the school’s African-centered principles, in particular the concept of ujamaa, or collective economics, and the teachings of Maat. The principles are reflected among the volunteers at the Hub, who refer to each other as Baba (for men) and Mama (for women), terms that denote respect, and, most important,  community.

Market Day also includes cooking demonstrations that emphasize healthy preparation of healthy food.  Like millet with cinnamon, nutmeg and butter, and a new way to prepare chard, with natural peanut butter melted and tossed with tomato and onions.  Strode said the market and the demonstrations encourage people to try “foods they are not familiar with.”  And show  them how good healthy food can taste.

Coming Up: Seeding Chicago's visit to Black Oaks Center and interviews with Fred Carter and Dr. Jifunza Wright Carter.

Financing Local Food: 'Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is'

Cassandra West

By Susan Richardson From support for supermarkets in neighborhoods with more liquor stores than healthy food choices to efforts to increase the number of USDA certified organic poultry processors, philanthropic organizations are increasingly taking part in a growing movement for sustainable agriculture and access to healthy food. 

 “This is a time of convergence,” said Karen Lehman, director of Fresh Taste, a Chicago-based collaborative supported by area foundations that encourages diverse local agriculture and healthy eating in Illinois. 

Last week, Lehman moderated a panel on food finance at the PRI Makers  National Conference in Chicago, a group of foundations and other funders that provide low-interest loans and other creative financing for charitable purposes.

Though food finance is still an unknown for most foundations, the panel discussion, titled “Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Local Food Finance,” underscored the rising profile of food issues in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.  Panelists shared experiences in financing local food initiatives, discussed the importance of building the capacity of organizations to execute food-related projects and emphasized the need to grow efforts in communities of color, where food financing can potentially have a great impact on public health and economic development.

News coverage about food recalls, First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to combat childhood obesity, and the spread of community gardens as a tool for both revitalizing neighborhoods and building community have all increased public awareness about what Americans eat, where it comes from, and how it is produced.  At the PRI session, almost everyone raised their hand when asked if they had seen the documentary Food, Inc., which skewers the food manufacturing industry. 

But today’s tipping point in terms of food awareness is the result of years of labor by grass-root organizations to bring public health, environmental, social justice, and economic development concerns together around the food delivery system. “These issues are in the spotlight as never before,” according to the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders, which is holding its annual conference in Philadelphia June 15-18.  “Efforts over the past decades helped sow the ground from which today’s opportunities have grown. But what next?”

 Under the theme of “Shaking it Up, Making It Last: A Real Food System for All,” the conference will explore issues including cross-disciplinary efforts to build community health through urban agriculture; the challenges of making healthy food accessible to everyone; financing local food initiatives, and changing the certification system for domestic agriculture.  In addition, participants will tour various project sites in and around Philadelphia, including food-producing farms and a community garden built on abandoned inner-city lots.  

A keynote speaker will be Jeremy Nowak, founder and CEO of The Reinvestment Fund, which was instrumental in financing the first grocer in West Philadelphia in years.  The Fund worked on behalf of Pennsylvania’s Fresh Food Financing Initiative, a model for the Obama administration’s $400 million National Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which could provide support for grocery stores, farmers markets and other efforts to provide healthy food in underserved communities. In February, the First Lady visited a North Philadelphia grocery store supported by the state’s fresh food financing initiative in conjunction with the launch of her campaign against childhood obesity. 

The focus of the Sustainable Agriculture Funders conference is to tap into the momentum around food issues to create a national food system that better serves public health.

For more information about the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders, visit www.safsf.org.

Oscar-Nominated Documentary Tackles Food Production

Cassandra West

By Susan Richardson

Food, Inc., a documentary that explores America's industrialized food system and its effect on the environment, health, and economy, will be shown tonight, Wednesday, April 21, at 9 p.m. on WTTW 11.   The film, which was nominated for an Oscar, examines major issues surrounding food and food production: factory farming, genetic engineering, pesticides, food-borne illnesses, organic food, nutritional labeling, environmental impact, school lunches, obesity, and farm workers' rights.  The documentary is also available on Netflix.

Director Robert Kenner follows the processed chicken at American grocery stores back to cramped chicken houses where the birds are puffed up on steroids.  Kenner also highlights  a working-class family as it struggles to eat healthy on a limited budget.  The documentary is informed by the work of healthy food advocates Eric Schlosser, author of  "Fast Food Nation," and Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma."

Healthy Food Bill Introduced in US Senate

Cassandra West

By Susan RichardsonNew York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced a new bill Monday aimed at bringing healthy food to underserved communities.  The Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which is supported by the Obama administration, would invest $1 billion in grants and loans to build more than 2,100 new or renovated grocery stores, corner stores, and farmers' markets in urban and rural areas.  A similar version of the bill will be introduced in the House by Reps. Nydia Velazquez (NY), Allyson Schwartz (Penn.), and Earl Blumenauer (Ore.) in the coming weeks.  Read more about the legislation.

Supporting the Healthy Food Financing Initiative

Cassandra West

By Susan Richardson

President Obama has set aside $345 million in his 2011 budget for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, a program that will provide one-time loans and grant funding to increase healthy food options in underserved communities. Read more about the initiative, which is based on a business model from Philadelphia, and what you can do to support it.

A full-service supermarket for the Near West Side?

Cassandra West

fresh fruit and vegetables Chicago's Near West Side may be getting a 60,000-square-foot full-service supermarket by next summer if the city's Community Development Commission approves the plan, Crain's Chicago Business reported today.

Pete's Fresh Market, which operates six stores on the city's South and Southwest sides and sells organic products, would construct a new store on the southeast corner of Madison Street and Western Ave, its lawyer told Crain's.

Last August, Chicago selected Pete's to develop the 3.5-acre city-owned property, about a half-mile west of the United Center. The area is one of many in the city without a full-service grocer providing fresh fruit, vegetable and other healthy food options for residents. Currently, the nearest supermarkets are more than a mile away.