Saturday, October 2, 2010

Local Food: Equity in Actions & Truth

Last weekend, Ted and I attended a Community Food Forum. A small online notice caught my eye a while back. I posted it to the Sustainable Food for Thought Facebook page (mostly as a more-reliable-than-a-bookmark reminder to myself) and was grateful to be able to participate in the Saturday morning event.

Individuals from local non-profits and churches, the Montavilla, Lents, Cully, and Parkrose Farmers Markets, the Multnomah County Chair's office, and the community at large filed in to the meeting held at a neighborhood church just a handful of blocks from our home. The discussion revolved around equity of access to healthy food for for east Portlanders, in particular, our disenfranchised and low income neighbors in Montavilla.


As Ted and I have been seeking to engage and build camaraderie with the under resourced members of our community, the event's conversations were timely.

Kyle Curtis, the Associate Manager of the Montavilla Farmer's Market, opened the morning asking, "How can we make healthy food more accessible and affordable in east Portland?"

We were asked to consider:


What kind of food system do we want, and how can we encourage it through policies, programs, and partnerships?

How do we ensure equity in the new food systems we create?

Can small farmers make a decent wage selling affordably priced food to low-income customers without subsidies?
~
And he shared with us a number of telling maps from the Portland Plan from the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, showing recent inventories of neighborhood access to grocery stores, community gardens, Oregon Food Bank food assistance programs, fast food establishments, and changes in food stamp usage over the past few years.

Karol Collymore of county chair Jeff Cogen's office shared about the health disparities related to the way we currently offer the "least of what we have" (i.e., packaged, processed, nutrient-void foods from corner markets, gas stations, and the like) to many or our resource-isolated areas. She raised questions of of how to incentivise healthy business development in neighborhoods where current economic viability is questionable. She spoke of New Seasons' practice of locating grocery stores in areas of high college education rates and the trouble of under resourced areas remaining so in the face of improvements in more affluent areas of town. She shared about the Multnomah Food Initiative and gave avenues to educate ourselves and become a part of the dialog.


Did you know that if you spot a vacant plot of land within the urban areas, there are mechanisms in place to work with the county to do a tax and title search and then transform that space into a spot for growing healthy food? Check out Groundwork Portland and Janus Youth Programs' urban agriculture projects.
~
Kyle Curtis relayed to us that the recent Montavilla Food Co-op survey taken over this past summer had a very small percentage of respondents from non-white, low-income zip codes, despite the high rates of those populations within geographic proximity to the Montavilla Farmers Market, local food buying clubs, and other neighborhood food initiatives. Clearly, there is much to be improved in the way our food system engages and supports families of diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds...

Did you know that there is a 2-3 year waiting list for the Vestal Elementary School community garden here at NE 82nd and Couch? It's discouraging to see the sky-high numbers of fast food and chain restaurants up and down 82nd and the surrounding thoroughfares...and to see the high prices at the farmers markets that can be luxuriously justified to me, but sincerely unapproachable by my dear neighbors here at Stepping Stone Apartments.

Many members of the local community shared their experiences over the past few years here in the Montavilla area. Progress is being made. Positive changes are happening. Areas for work and improvement are being identified and addressed.

Encouraging, yes.

But also a strong reminder that care and concern require hands and feet.
~
At the conclusion of the event, we were given additional ways to be involved. I'm happy to share them here as well, in hopes that word will continue to go out...

Volunteer at local markets - Montavilla, Cully, Lents, Parkrose (or one in your own back yard!)


Attend the various upcoming Multnomah Food Initiative Workshops (10/19 Healthy Eating, 10/28 Local Food, 11/1 Social Equity, 11/3 Economic Vitality)

Consider applying for a seat on the Portland-Multnomah Food Policy Council

Participate in local food buying clubs: Lents Grocery Co-op, Lents Food Buying Club, Lents Grocery Buying Club, Montavilla Buying Club, Portland Eastside Buying Club (or, added plug, our Sustainable Food For Thought group!)


Connect with Friends of Family Farmers


And I would add a few more ideas to the list...

~Share a meal, in your home, with your neighbors. Learn about their stories and their needs and desires. Learn about the foods that they enjoy most! Seek out opportunities to share resources that are meaningful and practical to them in their particular circumstances.
~Check with your local CSA or farm stand and ask if they have sponsorship opportunities for reduced cost subscriptions to be made available to low income participants.
~Grow a garden and share your bounty with people up and down your street.
~Eat with gratefulness, and share your best.

As Ted and I have chosen to change our habits of purchasing and consuming, and as we've conscientiously used our dollars to vote for changes in the food system, it still comes as a deeply troubling reality that so very many of our fellow Portlanders are without a voice, without the luxury of dollars to vote, and without the access to foods that promote health and nourishment.

We've not come to answers yet. Only to continued questions and invitations to conversation. I am challenged to put my blessings to work...to revel in the goodness and bounty of the seasons and to participate in restoring the Creator's hope and vitality to the neighborhood in which we live.

Leviticus 23:22 When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 14:28-29
At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year's produce and store it in your towns, so that the...the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

Proverbs 21:13 If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.

Luke 14:13-14 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

1 John 3:17-18
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

Join me as we learn to carry the truth and live out the calling?

~Bethany

4 comments:

Rebekah said...

That's a lot of great info and ideas. One comment on New Seasons ... I'm sure the reason why they open stores in high-income neighborhoods is because they simply could not afford to stay open in a low-income area. They are an independent company, which means they don't have the power of a monster corporation to stay competitive with big chain grocery stores. Grocery suppliers generally work with very small margins of profit to begin with, because of the need to stay competitive. A company like New Seasons also sells a large number of items produced by small businesses and farms. Small food producers can't offer stores the same prices as big producers like Kraft, General Mills or goverment-subsidized farms. There are a multitide of factors that drive the price of real, wholesome food UP.
I don't think that grocery store positioning is the issue as much as a desperate need for community-based nutrition education and an alternative, affordable means of supplying lower-income families with food. Sounds like this organization is on the right track. This issue has been bugging me for a while, so it's nice to see that others are taking notice and taking meaningful action!

Bethany said...

Hey Bekah, well said! I completely agree with you that the issue is not store positioning but rather education and access.

I really didn't mean to come across as picking on New Seasons (there's little to pick on, truly!). :)

I'm grateful to such companies for their tremendous work in supporting local food systems and partnering with community building organizations. (In fact, I wanted to confirm their support of Growing Gardens, an organization I appreciate, and my Googling yielded this amazing list of New Seasons beneficiaries.)

The underlying observation is that many under-resourced areas are simply remaining that way. But honestly, geographic barriers to access are of lesser concern to me than monetary ones.

The realization that a fabulous grocery store or food buying club or farmers market in close proximity to low income neighborhoods (i.e., ours here in Montavilla) is not meeting the needs of the marginalized members of the community is sobering and humbling.

I'm still wrestling with all of these thoughts....

Thanks for the camaraderie :)

Rebekah said...

LOL, I knew you weren't picking on New Seasons, no worries! I was just making the point that the problem is not that grocery stores aren't making themselves available, but that a growing percentage of our society cannot afford to purchase quality foods.

I'm glad that the Montavilla community is recogizing the need for increased education and taking some concrete steps to make better food available to everyone.

Rebekah said...

P.S. That New Seasons beneficiary list is HUGE! Good for them!

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