Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Loud Mouth in the Quiet Car

Tomorrow, I return to Philadelphia as the start of two weeks of crazy travel. I'm very determined not to repeat the travel hiccups of my past two trips (Boston. Tunnels. 'nough said.). When I went to Philly a month ago, I took the train (which I'll be doing again) and had no idea how serious people got about queueing up to board. I ended up towards the rear of the line and, on top of that, was pulled for random drug testing (with that little felt piece that they reuse 50 times in 5 minutes to swipe bags). By the time I headed for the train, all the front cars (back cars? train nomenclature is not my strong suit) were full. Not being a seasoned train rider, I wasn't sure how far I could go on the cars before I hit first class. I stopped to ask an employee, showing him my ticket. Then, I managed to ignore everything he said and walked to the wrong car.

At this point, the train actually started moving, so I jumped into the closest car which happened to be the "quiet" car and under no circumstances should a person like me ever sit in the "quiet" car. I found a seat, catching my breath and then realized my I.D. that I'd been carrying in the same pocket as my ticket was missing. Did I mention the train was *moving*? And that I was in the quiet car? So, I began stage whispering to the poor man who had the extreme misfortune of having the only empty seat next to him. Of course, there was nothing he could do, but he felt terrible so he started lifting up my jackets and flipping through my books while I managed to panic everyone else in the quiet car that I was some sort of deranged lunatic with laryngitis. When our search turned up nothing, I went searching for the ticket guy (again, not good with official train titles).

Pressing buttons and racing through doors like Jake Gyllenhaal in SourceCode, I found him 4 or 5 cars down where I breathlessly explained that I thought I'd dropped my driver's license on the platform. Very calm-like, in a manner similar to which you'd treat a mental patient, he told me to sit down and he'd "check". (I wasn't sure what this meant, but I was having delusions of being tossed from the train in Delaware, so I thought it was best to obey.) Returning to my seat, I continued searching through my purse with the vigor of a chain smoker trying to find a last cig. My seatmate continued to look pained, either because he was the most empathetic person on the planet or because he was envisioning 8 possible hours trapped next to me. (The train goes all the way to Boston.) Meanwhile, I began frantically texting my dog sitter about how I was going to need her to FedEx me my passport the next day. In the middle of a hurricane. (Oh, yeah. Remember how I went to Philly in a hurricane?!) Intelligent woman that she is, she ignored every single one of my texts.

When oxygen began to finally flow to my brain again, it occurred to me that I'd been holding my ticket when I lifted my luggage into the overhead compartment. I stood up, open the bin, lifted the bag and ran my hand along the floor of the cabinet. As it closed around the cool, slim piece of plastic, I couldn't help exclaiming, "I found it!" In the quiet car. Yeah, yeah..."sssshhhh" and all that sh*&.

So, um, I'm just hoping tomorrow's trip doesn't start that way.

Oh...would you like to actual read about some Food Fighting and stuff?! Ok. Here are some good links from the past two weeks for that.

Maybe next week, I'll cover some ways cities are getting inventive in supplying the community with these products and teaching them how to use it all. In the meantime, I suggest old-fashioned oatmeal, fruits and vegetables (anybody can do salad) and a lot of hummus and whole grain pita. Low-maitenance cooking.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Where I've Been and Where I'm Going

A sale chart from the entrepreneurial kids at City Blossoms in WDC
Three months ago, I started this project officially. Time has flown by so quickly, I still feel I haven't adequately addressed half the things I've learned. I'm optimistic though that in the end it will accrue to create one (sort-of?) seamless flow that might be useful not just to myself, but others. One thing is for certain, and that is the fact that all the organizations I've visited so far have been amazing in their own right. I've visited places in Boston, Philadelphia and my hometown of Washington, DC so far, and next week, I'm off to Chicago.

A downtown Philly pop-up garden designed to utilize temporarily empty space.
My visits have been centered around observing three main areas of food equity: production of food, distribution of food and education about food. I've also tried to incorporate any businesses that might be involved in creating a larger network of local, sustainable food for a city. Of course, many places overlap in their focus. Here, I group them loosely based on the central premise of their organization.

I welcome suggestions for more visits and stops! Please use this blog, the email, Twitter or Facebook to send them my way!

Visitors tour Common Good City Farm in WDC
Common Good City Farm, LeDroit Park, Washington, DC: Read more about this 1/2 acre urban farm in my Zomppa post or in this blog post. Best take away: The abundant amount of plant life that can grow in a small space on a former elementary school baseball field. Peach trees! Peach trees!
City Blossoms, Shaw Neighborhood, Washington, DC: I just visited with City Blossoms at their Marion Street location this past week and doggone if I didn't leave with the biggest case of the warm and fuzzies. This spot really puts the "community" in community garden. As with Common Good, education about gardening and fresh food is part of the package. The emphasis here is on kids, but all sorts of community members and volunteers participate.

The Food Project, multiple locations, Boston, MA and surrounding areas: Although the Food Project operates several farms in the greater Boston area, their focus is equally split on growing food and growing community. Teaching youth leadership skills is a majority part of this 20-year old organization's goals. They also work to distribute the food they grow to areas of the community in need, often partnering with health organizations, schools, and youth groups to promote healthy eating. You can read a little more about what I've written about them here.
Walnut Hill Community Farm and Philly Rooted, West Philadelphia, PA: There's a lot more to what Nic Esposito has going on then just this farm outside of a Septa station on Market Street. He's also a big proponent of local entrepreneurship and community mobilization. This farm is ingenious not just for its use of space, but for its design, such as a drainage cistern and pipe that slopes down the public transit system's roof. (Yep, they managed to get through all the government red tape for permission to do it!)
Pennsylvania Horticultural Society: Ok, so they're clearly involved in gardens. But, did you know this organization (originally founded in 1827) also runs a prison greenhouse program and a work release "Roots to Re-entry" program? Their training classes to help organizers start community gardens is innovative in that they focus only 1/3 on actual gardening and 2/3 on community mobilization (often the most difficult component of starting a neighborhood garden). The City Harvest program connects gardeners who can grow surplus with food security organizations that might use it.
Greensgrow, Philadelphia, PA: One of the original urban "gardens" in Philadelphia. Also runs a farmer's market, CSA, and nutritional cooking classes. 

The greenhouse at Greensgrow in Philly, PA
I'll be adding to this list in Chicago where I'm scheduled to stop at:
City Farm, Chicago, IL: Not only will I be touring this farm and speaking with a director at the organization (The Resource Center) that runs it, but I'll also be attending their fall Urban Harvest event.
Growing Home, Chicago, IL: Both exploring this farm and speaking with someone to learn more about their programs.
Gary Corner Youth Center Gardens, Chicago, IL: Another scheduled garden stop!

Bread for the City, Shaw and Anacostia neighborhoods, Washington, DC: I've worked with BFC for several of their farmer's markets. They are an immense organization of wrap-around services that do much more than hand-out food. Education is also a big priority here to ensure their clients become self-sufficient and independent as the ultimate goal. You can read some more about them here and here.
Community Servings, Boston, MA: Originally founded as a healthy food delivery service for those suffering from acute illnesses, Community Servings has expanded its offerings to include nutritional cooking classes that utilize fresh produce and farmer's markets whose proceeds help support the non-profit. Both offer provisions that make them accessible to a wide range of incomes.
SHARE, distribution from West Philadelphia to areas of PA, DE, NJ shore, MD shore and metro NY: SHARE acquires food from the USDA's commodity program and supplements it with local farm goods to create weekly "boxes" of groceries that are then sold for a fraction of the retail cost. Federal and state assistance monies as well as cash can be used to purchase a box which is picked up at a local distribution site.
Philabundance, greater Philadelphia, PA: Philabundance grew out of a food bank system, but does much more beyond mere distribution. If you want to hear me turn all gooey and wax philosophic about them, check out this post.  They have a lot going on! And it's all fabulous!

I'll be adding to this list in Chicago where I'm scheduled to take a peek at the:
Fresh Moves Bus, various locations, Chicago, IL: This produce stand on wheels takes reduced price produce into underserved areas of Chicago.

Working in the City Blossoms Marion Street Garden
Haley House, South End, Boston, MA: Haley House has a wide variety of wrap-around services, but several of their growing projects involve food education and training. I recently wrote about them here on the blog. 
Cambridge Community Kitchen, Cambridge, MA: A fledgling business hoping to host both local, nutritional cooking classes for a variety of populations as well as provide a separate kitchen to serve as an incubator for start-up food businesses.
Chefs Move To Schools, nationwide: A component of Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative, this program helps to pair those trained in culinary arts with a local school. Resources and ideas are provided online to help chefs and schools incorporate food education. I was recently paired with Takoma Park Educational Center and am looking forward to starting a food exploration unit there. 

This does not even cover the other local DC organizations I partner with who are interested in nutritional cooking education for their clients.  These places include Even Start, Academy of Hope, Unity Healthcare, and the Latin American Youth Center among other non-for-profits.

Shoppers choose from the fresh produce at FreshFarm Market in WDC

Local Sustainable Food Systems
Crop Circle Kitchen, Jamaica Plains, Boston, MA: A food business incubator that carefully and selectively screens potential businesses to maximize efficiency. In addition, CCK provides detailed guidance on running and growing a business. The founder also runs a distribution hub called OrFoodEx that allows small producers and buyers to link up in a way that minimizes costs.
Boston Local Foods, Boston, MA: A linking organization for local businesses and producers designed to emphasize location, fairness and sustainability in the food system. I'll be attending their Boston Local Foods Festival on Saturday, Oct. 1. 
FreshFarm Markets, Washington, DC area: A non-profit that organizes 11 markets in DC, VA and MD filled with farmers from within a 200-mile radius. Several of their markets accept SNAP and WIC and utilize a program called "Double Dollars" that matches federal funds up to a specified amount. And, of course, there's the awesome FoodPrints kitchen , curriculum and garden at Watkins ES.  I frequently work at their markets doing simple cooking demonstrations with the produce and am looking forward to participating in the Watkins program soon! 
Fair Food Philly, Philadelphia, PA: Fair Food Philly began as a way to connect restaurants with local farms and has grown to include schools, institutions and the public at large. A leader in linking food networks in the city. 

Fair Food Philly's Farmstand at Reading Terminal carefully describes where the food originates and how it is produced

Sunday, September 11, 2011

End of Summer Book Review

Remember back in June when I told you about my summer reading list? No? Check it out, here. I can proudly report that I finished my entire summer reading list (just one week past Labor Day) and even added one title to the list! Unfortunately, all the documentaries are still on my list of "to-do". Movies were harder to fit into my schedule, I guess.

Universally, the books were all solid reads. Here are some short summaries:

  • Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook: An incredibly well-written book...so much so that even though the topic might seem specific, Estabrook makes it both horrific and utterly compelling at the same time. Traces how tomatoes grow, the rise of the tomato "industry" and the conditions of workers in the tomato fields of Florida. A really good read to understand how your individual food "decisions" can impact a variety of people and causes. I want to make all my friends read it. Watch it, I'll be pushing it on you (yes, you) next!
  • The Feast Nearby by Robin Mather: A delightfully easy read of vignettes on living "local" and affordably.  Not only are the short stories homey and warm, but the recipes and techniques for cooking simply are actually useful. Practical tips on everything from canning to drying to purchasing eco-conscious coffee. Not to mention Mather is a master of eating extremely well (no dessert skipping or vegetarian diets here!) on a very small budget.
  • Fair Food by Oran Hesterman: A comprehensive resource guide for anyone involved, or looking to become involved, in creating a food system that respects workers, localities and health. Short chapters explain specific areas and the appendix contains loads of links to further resources. Good for both individuals looking to inform their purchasing decisions and advocates wanting to take a larger role in the fight for a sustainable food system.
  • Food Justice by Robert Gottlieb: Reads somewhat like a university text, although a bit less dry. Definitely for someone looking to devote more time and energy to the movement.
  • Edible by Edible Publication: Featured stories culled from the Edible magazine publications across the nation. Half of the book is composed of local food recipes arranged by season.  I enjoyed it, but I think a subscription to your local Edible publication would serve a similar purpose and be more relatable to the produce growing in your area.

I also enjoyed American Wasteland by Jonathan Bloom. Of all the books I read this summer, this probably effected my life the most. An eye-opener on the amount of food we carelessly discard. See my review for Zomppa here.

So, what's next?
Poisoned by Jeff Benedict about the E. Coli outbreak and Jack-in-the-Box tragedy in California in the 1990s.
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadima, recommended by one of my nutrition professors, this book is not about food, but instead on understanding cultures and cultural differences as a means to better communication. In the book's case study, a medical case featuring a Hmong child and American doctors frames the cultural clash. Because my classes and interactions deal with so many different individuals from a variety of backgrounds, I thought it would be an excellent addition to my library.

More recommendations for me? Shout them out in the comments or on the Food Fighters Facebook page!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Helping Hand at Haley House

September is Hunger Action Month. Each week, Food Fighters will be posting features on some of the amazing organizations around the country fighting to make sure all Americans have access to fresh, healthy food. To learn more about, Hunger Action Month or how you can volunteer in your neighborhood, visit the Feeding America website or follow them on Twitter @FeedingAmerica or #HungerActionMonth.

Scattered across a neighborhood in the South End of Boston are a network of facilities under the name of Haley House.  Since 1966, this institution has been a house of hospitality for those transitioning out of homelessness, and, later, anyone faced with disenfranchisement. From housing to jobs to healthy meal preparation to revitalizing abandoned urban areas, Haley House has evolved with the community in which it exists. It is an excellent example of an organization that began by responding to an perceived need and adapted to new inequities as they became apparent.

Haley House organizes a variety of projects aimed at giving individuals who are struggling not a hand-out, but a hand up. Creating community is of the utmost importance in all Haley House does as is a marked desire in seeing people become self-sufficient.  Some of their outreach work includes:

  • Haley House Transitional Employment Program: A work experience program for those recently released from incarceration that focuses not just on training in the kitchen, bakery and catering enterprises, but predominately on life skills. The program teaches participants how to be successful in maintaining a job, home and finances and also in managing interpersonal relationships on a variety of levels.
  • Take Back the Kitchen: Works with urban students and some adults to learn basic healthy kitchen and nutritional skills. Participants have included charter schools, gang-resistance programs, anti-obesity clinics and college students among others.
  • Haley House Bakery&Cafe: A community cafe that helps to financially support Haley House's other missions.  The Cafe serves made-from-scratch food and fair trade products from a variety of ethnicities and often employs graduates of other Haley House programs. It is also a common spot for community gatherings and forums.
  • Food Program (Soup Kitchen and Pantry): Feeds the elderly, families and homeless who are in need.  The Soup Kitchen meals provide an intimate environment to eat in a community atmosphere. Meals are made with fresh produce from Noonday farm and place an emphasis on healthy, nourishing food.
  • Noonday Farm: A biodynamic farm that provides over 6,000 pounds of food per year to food banks and the Haley House kitchens.

To learn more about Haley House or how to contribute, visit here.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Philabundance

September is Hunger Action Month. Each week, Food Fighters will be posting features on some of the amazing organizations around the country fighting to make sure all Americans have access to fresh, healthy food. To learn more about, Hunger Action Month or how you can volunteer in your neighborhood, visit the Feeding America website or follow them on Twitter @FeedingAmerica or #HungerActionMonth.

You're smart. I know you're smart. But, I'm still going to call the "Driving Hunger From Our Communities" phrase to your attention. It's on a truck. Get it? Driving...truck. Love the clever.
I'm a little obsessed with Philabundance. Not only do they have one of the catchiest names in all of hunger relief, but they abound with positivity. Certainly, hunger is not something that brings a smile to anyone's face. However, many recipients at food banks often feel a certain stigma in participation. Philabundance works hard to create community and a sense of hope that I, and many of their clients and patrons, can certainly appreciate.  Even their colorful graphics and catchy T-shirts help raise spirits in what can be a bleak and desperate situation. Based on the individuals I communicated with and met for my visit, I can say this optimistic vibe pulsates among the staff. Couple that with a variety of innovative programs (listed below), and I think you'll see why I'm crushing on this organization and their vision of Philly Abundance for all.

A Philabundance T-shirt. Order one here.
Philabundance has existed in the greater Philadelphia, PA area since 1984. In 2005, it was integrated with the Philadelphia Food Bank and now provides direct service programs with over 500 member agencies.  Some of their innovative programs include:

A Philabundance Fresh for All site

  • Fresh For All: Started in response to the expressed desire and need for more fresh produce in low income areas, this program operates at 12 different sites: 6 in New Jersey and 6 in Pennsylvania. Each site practices reliability and consistency in that each is year-round (except for very inclement weather days) and allots produce based on expected numbers to ensure all participants receive a share each and every week. 
  • Share the Harvest: This sow-a-row initiative encourages local gardeners to grow a little extra and then donate their surplus to Philabundance.  Community organizations (such as churches and schools) can turn unused space into gardens that can be dedicated to helping others. Backyard gardeners can squeeze in a few extra plants to harvest for the program.
  • Innovative Volunteer Activities: Philabundance encourages community involvement (which in turn generates awareness which in turn leads to more resources...a fabulous cycle) through such events as "Macking and Packing"- a singles sorting night to pack boxes of nourishing food to be distributed at various sites. Afterwards, volunteers mingle at a happy hour.  (Sooo my kind of event!) Volunteers also staff tables at Fresh for All and share their tips and recipes for cooking the produce available.  Interaction amongst varying demographics is a big tenet of Philabundance.
  • Those are just a small taste of what Philabundance is doing in the greater Philly area.  They also have seniors programs, grocery donation campaigns, a job-training kitchen and numerous food drive incentive programs.  
Learn more about Philabundance by visiting here.  Or think about attending their half-day Hunger Symposium on Thursday, September 22.  I'll be there!

Also available on the Philabundance website.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Connecting with Hunger

Hunger. Just the sound of it conjures up need; the word brings a tightness to the chest and an ache to the belly. But, hunger is everywhere lately. Chances are you encountered more than one person on the street today who is dealing with the possibility of an unpredictable food supply.  ABC News just wrapped up a series called "Hunger at Home" that presented some staggering facts:

  • 44 million Americans currently live in poverty.  That's more than the populations of AK, AZ, GA, HI, MD, MI, RI, MS and WY combined.
  • 35% of those living in poverty are children.
  • In 2009, 1 in 5 children in America lived in homes that relied on emergency food sources. 
  • 17 million children are among the food insecure- meaning that they may not know if or where from their next meal is coming.
  • Since the recession, 20 million more Americans have begun using the food stamp program.
  • According to the USDA, 49% of all babies born in the U.S. are born to families who receive some form of WIC assistance.
  • 29% of Americans that are food insecure earn above the 185% poverty line and thus, cannot qualify for federal food assistance.
These statistics are almost overwhelming.  However, there are individuals and organizations committed to addressing and changing them.

A few links to learn more about facing and addressing hunger:

Think about getting involved in HUNGER ACTION MONTH by checking out Feeding America's suggestions or volunteering at your local food bank. 

Consider joining Slow Food USA's day of awareness on September 17 by hosting or attending a $5 Dinner Challenge.  Taking part shows you believe that *all* Americans deserve access to fresh, healthy food.  Inexpensive food doesn't have to be junk.  Get tips on making nutritious, affordable meals by linking to Slow Food's Tips and Tricks page.

Finally, I recently wrote up a quick review/summary of American Wasteland for Zomppa.  It really got me thinking about all the food we waste when there are millions with not enough to eat. Since reading it, I've really made an effort to think about what I buy and how I use it.