June 15, 2011

Beyond Bread is Dead. Long Live BreadfortheCity.org/Blog!

After just over three years of dedicated bloggage, it's time to say goodbye to Beyond Bread. This trusty blog has served us well, but it's time to move on. And the future is bright!

We're pleased to announce the launch of the new BreadfortheCity.org, in which our daily blog will reside.

We're still working out a lot of kinks and settling in to our new digs, so please pardon all the dust. Be sure to send me (Greg at gbloom[at]breadforthecity[dot]org) a heads up if you stumble across something that's really broken.

For those of you who are reading this by RSS or email (or for those of you who would like to read this by RSS or email) please point your feed-reader to: http://feeds.feedburner.com/breadforthecity/BFCBlog

Meanwhile, point your browser here from now on:

Final note: a huge thanks to Charise Van Liew, who rebuilt our site from bottom up in Wordpress. She very well may be able to help you out on a project too! Reach her on LinkedIn or Twitter.

June 7, 2011

Conference Reportback: Planting Seeds for Economic Justice

Angie Stackhouse is Bread for the City client and a local advocate for social justice issues, particularly for the homeless community. Angie has been helping Bread for the City with the food policy council planning process with the Health Affordable Food for All Coalition, and recently traveled attended a food policy conference with others from Bread for the City. Angie has blogged with us in the past about homelessness in DC.

I came to the Community Food Security Coalition’s local policy conference to find out how we can better serve the homeless community in terms of getting fresh vegetables in shelters. Once there, I met a lot of people who talked about how that’s just one important way among many that we can improve our communities’ food systems, improving our health while also developing economic opportunity.

And I realized that what we all want is healthy affordable food for all - so let’s do it!

How do we make that happen? First, you need to think about who needs to be brought to the table. You need to do the groundwork - going into the communities and asking people how they feel about their food choices and how they feel about not having fresh food in their neighborhood.

You also need to have people who know about things like zoning, people who are affiliated with the Health department (to highlight the importance of sickness & disease happening in the neighborhoods), and folks who have data linking lack of fresh vegetables to sickness and obesity (that’ll help convince City Council how important it is). Then, you start thinking about how to work together to make it happen.

I learned that having something like a food policy council can help make sure the City Council recognizes that people need fresh & healthy food. And I learned that successful food policy councils have participation and leadership from residents who themselves are struggling with these problems and searching for solutions.

But we also learned that you’ve got to be strategic. You have to know how to use the tools that you have with limited resources. Being strategic means being able to clearly define what you’re trying to do, which also makes people more likely to want to sign on.

So let’s get to work! Here are some of my favorite ideas from the conference:

  • Gardening in a way that creates jobs, and supporting healthy foods in shelters will also encourage homeless people to participate in becoming healthy themselves, and feeling more empowered over their own lives. The Gateway Greening Project in St. Louis is one example.
  • Food trucks is an awesome way to get food across the city while also creating jobs. Green carts in New York are an example of that.
  • Transportation matters more for low-income residents. To engage in garden projects, markets, and so on, they may need additional support for travel to and from.
  • Everything Cleveland is doing.
  • Food justice can and should also mean economic justice. Bringing in healthy retail can support local job creation, for example.
And here’s what I’m going to be doing now that I’m back in DC:
  • Check out the websites of all the organizations I learned about, including a business that specifically caters to the homeless community.
  • Dig deeper into the mobile market and mobile garden idea and who’s working on it in DC.
  • Start doing more outreach and organizing. We know everyone who needs to be at the table – let’s make sure they’re there.

June 3, 2011

Sisters Helping Sisters to Thrive: Report-Back from the Women’s Collective Training

Recently, Liz Nafziger and Ri Turner, two of Bread’s Medical Clinic Coordinators, attended a day-long training run by Abby Charles, former Advocacy and Policy Coordinator of the Women’s Collective, DC’s premier organization for women affected by and at-risk for HIV/AIDS infection.

Once we had successfully navigated the twisty corridors of Northeast DC’s Greater Mount Calvary Church, the first thing we noticed upon walking into the training room was the amazing collection of attendees. Primarily black women, the attendees ranged from Women’s Collective outreach workers (HIV-positive women who do peer outreach to promote HIV testing and prevention, including the use of the female condom) to managers of a residential shelter for women, from OB/Gyn nurses to community organizers who run a monthly meeting for African immigrant women in Maryland. We felt incredibly fortunate to share the day with such a dynamic group of women.

During the first half of the training, we learned about the problem – the impact of HIV/AIDS on women (especially in DC, where the overall HIV infection rate is over 3.2%, one of the highest rates in the country). Although HIV is sometimes thought of as a disease that primarily affects men, we learned that women are also affected by HIV at an increasing rate. Additionally, some factors make women especially vulnerable to the impact of HIV. For example, women are more likely than men to be economically dependent on others, which makes it more difficult for them to insist on safer sex practices, and also makes them more vulnerable to intimate partner violence and rape.

Once we had begun to grasp the impact of HIV/AIDS on women, we learned about the unique needs of women affected by HIV/AIDS. For example, more often than men, women bear the burden of dependents, such as children or aging or disabled relatives. Financial or material benefits (such as monthly supplemental food) are generally issued on an individual basis, designed to alleviate the economic impact of HIV on a single woman. However, those benefits often end up spread thinly among that woman’s dependents, leaving little or nothing for her own support. Similarly, women who are already overwhelmed with taking care of the needs of family members have a greater tendency to neglect their own health – they may prefer not to know about their own health status rather than add another problem to an already overwhelming plate of responsibilities. As a result, women may end up being “late testers,” which means they are not diagnosed until less than a year before their disease progresses to full-blown AIDS.

Finally, we learned about the Women’s Collective’s model for serving the needs of women and girls affected by HIV and AIDS. What makes the Women’s Collective a truly unique organization is the fact that it is run by and for a peer network of women affected by HIV/AIDS (and mostly black women, which is especially important in the District, where 90% of women newly diagnosed with HIV between 2001 and 2006 were black women, even though only 58% of women in DC are black). Additionally, the Women’s Collective emphasizes the importance of addressing the impact of HIV/AIDS by integrating four different programmatic thrusts:

•Treatment – Healthcare services tailored toward women with HIV/AIDS

•Prevention – Outreach, education, and referral services

•Advocacy – Coordinated efforts to change the institutional structures that perpetuate the prevalence of HIV infection and create barriers to access to treatment and resources

•Administration – The resources necessary to maintain a stable and sustainable organization to oversee the other three program areas

We enjoyed learning about the Women’s Collective model and reflecting on its similarities and differences from our model here at Bread for the City. Stay tuned for an upcoming post which will give more detail, specifically about the amazing advocacy work that the Women’s Collective is doing in the District, and how that work relates to our advocacy efforts here at Bread for the City.

June 2, 2011

DC: A Community of Gardeners

Bread for the City's Northwest Rooftop Garden “vine-cutting” ceremony officially marked the opening of the DC area’s largest rooftop agricultural site.

The goal of the rooftop gardens in both Northwest and Southeast is to provide a space for community members to engage with the production of fresh produce, and also to foster community among neighbors and allies.

One of the ways we can do that is by using the space itself as a site for growing dialogues.

So the week following the vine-cutting, we hosted a screening and discussion of the film A Community of Gardeners, which depicts how community gardens in seven DC neighborhoods have, in distinct ways, empowered individuals and groups. The standing-room only crowd included community activists, teachers, avid gardeners, BFC staff and clients, City officials, and other residents interested in BFC’s rooftop garden efforts.

Cintia Cabib, the filmmaker, introduced the film and answered questions. In addition, Dennis Chestnut of Groundwork Anacostia, and Bea Trickett of the Neighborhood Farm Initiative were part of the panel discussion following the film.

Filmmaker Cintia Cabib discusses her work
with the standing room only crowd.

Among other themes, the film and discussion underscored the importance of community gardens in the lives of youth throughout the City. As just one example, the film illustrated the positive learning outcomes that a community garden at C. Melvin Sharpe Health School in Northwest created for disabled students. While parks and other green spaces in the City might keep pedestrian paths away from plants, community gardens allow students, especially those with physical disabilities, to experience the smells and touch of the plants up close. Not only do these gardens provide a valuable teaching tool, but they also create a joyful experience for children who may never have been able to grow their own plants.

A desire to give young people a direct connection to the land and food production resonated in all seven community gardens featured in the film, as well as throughout the discussion. One young woman interviewed at Fort Stevens Garden remarked that she “hated golf courses and lawns now” because these spaces did not allow her to dig into the dirt and produce food that she could take home.

During the discussion, Erika Moses -- a BFC client who was also recently interviewed on WAMU in a piece on the rooftop garden project -- commented that while her daughter was initially reluctant to take part in the Rooftop Garden building days at the NW Center, she ended up enjoying planting seeds so much that she wanted to keep coming back. Community gardens present an opportunity for youth to develop confidence since they can see the literal growth of their work and have the ability to harvest what they grow.

An educator in attendance from the National Youth Garden confirmed the satisfaction that students get from growing their own nutritious, fresh food, and learning about garden wildlife, all while interacting with their peers in the outdoors. The film emphasized the rapid increase in demand for community gardens as concerns about access to fresh, organic, and healthy foods have grown. Community gardens in DC can instill the concepts of food security and fresh produce among young residents who have never encountered agricultural sites before. These gardens can help youth to reject their perception that, as one BFC client put it, “vegetables must come from a can at the grocery store.”

Cintia Cabib
framed the discussion by explaining that community gardens can sprout up anywhere in the city- but that they work best when they reflect the particular needs of their neighborhood. Already, DC Schoolyard Greening offers curricular resources for teachers so that they can match a student gardening program to specific conditions on school sites, with hopes of an entry into the official DCPS curriculum in the near future. Groundwork Anacostia has been partnering with community groups and housing projects in SE to create gardens as vehicles for community development. Also,the Neighborhood Farm Initiative has published a guide to assist individuals and groups who are interested in starting their own community gardens. Encouraging young people to take part in transforming familiar, but inaccessible spaces in their neighborhoods into productive food growth sites teaches new skills, fosters interaction between peers, and also increases local food security.

How can Bread for the City best engage young people who live in the neighborhoods surrounding the NW and SE centers in its Rooftop Garden projects? How can BFC make its gardens a desirable place for all community members?

To join in this conversation about creating more gardens for food production in DC, please join the DC Food for All Google Group or contact Allison Burket at aburket@breadforthecity.org

To volunteer at one of our rooftop gardens, please contact Erin Garnaas-Holmes at eholmes@breadforthecity.org

BFC’s food production initiatives, such as the rooftop gardens, would not be possible without the generous support of donors, so please give today.