Enough about KitchenAid mixers. Let's talk about something that really matters.
Imagine that in your neighborhood there are liquor stores on every corner, but no grocery store or produce market anywhere around. You have your choice of candy, chips, liquor and cigarettes but the freshest food at these corner stores might be a withered lemon or, if you're lucky, a wilting bunch of overpriced lettuce. You might have a medical condition like celiac disease, heart disease, lactose intolerance or diabetes, but the food you need to control your condition is simply not available.
Picture that you are low-income, you don't necessarily have a car and may not have the option to leave your neighborhood on a regular basis. You may be on food stamps. Stores that sell healthy food are in another part of town, and have prices that are out of the range of affordability. Imagine that like most Americans you worry about your health but were not taught nutrition in school in any meaningful way. You might be eating a lot of fast food because it's cheap and available. You know that eating healthily could improve your quality of life and your health, but you don't have the resources to do so. On top of these food access issues, your community is struggling with disproportionately high unemployment rates and limited access to medical and social services. People assume the high murder rate in your neighborhood is the biggest risk faced by residents, but in fact heart disease is the number one killer.
What you just envisioned is the reality for many people in West Oakland, CA, and residents of low-income urban communities across the country.
Now imagine that folks in your neighborhood start a non-profit organization that works with residents to help empower the community to meet its own nutritional needs. Not an outside organization that comes in to distribute food, but a community-based organization that helps people learn how to grow their own food through urban farms and gardens, that teaches culturally relevant nutrition and healthy cooking classes to people of all ages. The organization goes into schools to teach nutrition to kids. They start a "mobile market" that drives around areas of your community selling local produce and healthy groceries. This organization is not about "charity", it's about creating a self-reliant, socially just and sustainable food system in your neighborhood.
Imagine that they start selling healthy, organic produce and snacks to kids at public schools and YMCA afterschool programs. Picture a program that trains and employs young people from the community as nutrition educators, entrepreneurs and farmers. The organic produce harvested from the 5 urban gardens and a local farm get sold to neighborhood residents at rock-bottom prices, and what is left gets purchased by local restaurants and individual consumers. The focus is on local, sustainable agriculture and the health and economic empowerment of low-income people.
What you've just imagined is not just a dream, it's become reality... The organization is People's Grocery.
People's Grocery started in 2002 and with a tiny little budget has been making a huge impact on many peoples' lives with a number of successful food security projects. It is becoming a model for organizations all across the country. Now it is time to realize their ultimate goal, of creating a full-service, community-run, cooperative grocery store... The first of its kind in West Oakland. They envision a grocery store where all the produce is local, much of it sourced from urban farms. There will be culturally-competent nutrition educators on staff, and a cooking school located at the facility. They will give double the face value of food stamps when they are used to purchase fresh produce. A sophisticated business plan is in its final stages, incorporating community involvement at all levels of the enterprise and focusing on health and empowerment. This is a major new step for food security for the people of West Oakland as well as the rest of the city.
Are you as excited about this as I am? Do you want to help support their programs? Here are a few ways you can get involved:
Read the blog of the People's Grocery founder
Buy some stylin' People's Grocery gear
Volunteer to do garden work, teach gardening or cooking classes, help with aftershool programs, or provide much-needed office assistance
Donate to the farm
Donate to the general fund
HEALTHY FOOD FOR EVERYONE!