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.

No comments: