Archive for April, 2010

All DC Food For All posts from April, 2010.

Cheh Proposes Soda Tax to Pay for “Healthy Schools”

D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), who has vowed to pay for her “Healthy Schools” legislation one way or another, has asked colleagues to approve a tax on soda sales in the District of Columbia as a means of raising the estimated $6.5 million annual cost of the omnibus bill aimed at improving school nutrition and combating the city’s high childhood obesity rate.

In her letter to other members of the Council, Cheh does not specify a tax rate for sodas, but quotes the director of the U.S. Center for Disease Control as saying that a tax of 1 cent per ounce on soft drinks–or approximately 10 percent–would be the “single most effective measure to reverse the obesity epidemic.”

Cheh notes that since the repeal of a city tax on snack foods in 2001, there is no tax in the District on sodas except those purchased from vending machines. Meanwhile, Maryland levies a 6 percent sales tax on soda, while Virginia charges 1.5 percent. plus a state excise tax. Revenue from Cheh’s proposed soda tax would be directed into a special “Healthy Schools” fund, to be used only for purposes outlined in the bill.

In addition to providing additional funds for school breakfasts and lunches, the “Healthy Schools” bill would also help fund the purchase of local produce for school meals and establish grants for school gardens. While the legislation has won widespread support on the Council and among healthy food advocates, it has been dogged by questions of how Cheh would finance the plan when the city is in financial pain.

Special soda taxes have been proposed in other cities–notably New York–as a means of attacking the obesity problem. But this is the first time the issue has been raised seriously here. The “Healthy Schools” legislation, which sailed through committee and an initial Council vote recently, is scheduled to come up for a second and final vote on May 5.

An aide to Cheh last night said Cheh proposes to attach the soda tax to the city’s proposed general budget legislation, scheduled for a vote May 25, and expects that it will spark a fierce reaction from the food and beverage industries.

The proposed soda tax could also ingnite protests from the city’s black and low-income residents. Cheh says in her letter that such a tax most likely will fall heaviest on the District’s poor, who are also at greatest risk for being overweight or obese. “This means that children in the District who are at the greatest risk for childhood obesity are the most likely to decrease their consumption of sugary beverages as a result of a soda tax.”

Grow A Row off to an ex-”seedingly” good start!

We are really excited this year about the buzz around gardens. From the White House garden and the First Lady’s “Let’s Move!” campaign to the recent Community Food Security Panel, there has been talk locally and nationally about urban gardening. Here at the Capital Area Food Bank we have had a dramatic increase in the number of folks stepping up to donate produce from their gardens to our Grow A Row program.

Grow A Row got started last summer as gardeners called to see if we could take their extra produce. Not only does the food bank warehouse accept produce donations, but Grow A Row pairs gardeners with non-profit organizations in their neighborhood to form a produce partnership. The program starts in April and runs through November and spans the entire D.C. metro area. Right now we are in the midst of pairing produce partners and are really excited that we already have lots of new gardeners on board.

We are inspired by a group that has stepped into the role of gardener for Grow A Row this year: schoolchildren! We have three schools growing produce in their schoolyard gardens. Holton-Arms school in Bethesda decided to take part in Grow A Row after attending a “Face Hunger” hunger advocacy and awareness class taught by our very own Advocacy Coordinator, Amanda Melara. Georgetown Day School will donate produce to Grow A Row through a new aftercare gardening class that includes cooking lessons by Slow Cook blogger, Ed Bruske. Bancroft Elementary school is also participating in the Grow A Row program as a natural extension of their participation in Local Flavor Week and their work in the White House garden with Chef Sam Kass and First Lady Michelle Obama. All three schools are doing really exciting work around nutrition, garden education, and working to feed their neighbors in need.

Inspired? Check out the Grow A Row website for details and email us at to sign up!

Garapa for the Masses: Creating Substance Out of Consuming Saccharine

“Two weeks, and still nothing,” Rosa sighs. Two weeks of no milk for herself, her two boys and the rest of the family. This scene resonates a driving theme through the rest of the film Garapa.

Garapa. A Brazilian term for raw sugar cane juice: something sweet, something dense with calories, but ultimately just that – saccharine. No vitamins, no minerals, no substance. To try and raise growing families predominantly on a diet of garapa understandably inflicts long-term strain on families in “developing countries” such as Brazil.

The film tells the story of Rosa, the family of a woman named Robertina who lives in Santa Rita, and the story of Lucia and her family, who live in favelas (slums) in Sao Joao. Both communities lie in Ceara, a northeast frontier region of Brazil and historically known as a backwater region (by even Brazilian standards). The families wait for monthly government payments via a “Zero Hunger” program to buy food for 10 to 12 days at a time.

Rosa’s husband at one point says, “Look, I am 28 years old and not once in my life have I eaten three meals in a single day.”

Save the Date: Volunteer at DC Central Kitchen with the DC Food for All

Join DC Food for All folks for an evening volunteer shift at DC Central Kitchen!

Thursday May 13, 5-8pm
425 Second Street NW

We’ll kick things off with a short discussion about DCCK’s efforts to source local produce from 5-5:30. Then we’ll get to prepping!

During co-op shifts, volunteers help prep fresh produce from local farms for use in the 4,500 meals that the

A week of choice in our pantry!

After two successful dry-runs, Client Choice recently went live for an entire week at our Southeast Center, and these experiments have made one thing perfectly clear: our clients love the ability to choose what food they receive from our pantry. This alone makes it a priority for us to implement Client Choice as a permanent feature of our food program.

Permanently instituting Client Choice is going to take time and work. Our average “cycle time” (the total time it takes for a client to receive a bag) is a lean 4 minutes in the regular pantry setup; during the choice experiments our cycle time averaged 6.7 minutes. That’s not bad, but we do want to keep our pantry as efficient as possible — so we intend to tinker with the pantry’s layout, adding new tables that mimic a grocery store experience.

We are also developing a volunteer training module, breaking out everything step-by-step, so that experienced volunteers can easily train first-timers, and staff have the help they need to carry the extra workload.

Local Solutions, Local Consciousness

Dennis Chestnut, Vinnie Bevivino, Andrea NorthupAt last week’s “Food Access Solutions” panel at THEARC, we had a great opportunity to hear a conversation among some of the leaders of the local food movement here in DC.

Moderated by Andrea Northup, coordinator of the DC Farm to School Network, a panel about food in DC included Dennis Chestnut, executive director of Groundwork Anacostia River DC, Vinnie Bevivino, farming coordinator for Engaged Community Offshoots, Tambra Stevenson, founder of the DC Food Justice Coalition, and Alexandra Ashbrook, director of DC Hunger Solutions.

Alexandra began the local panel by talking about the report published by DC Hunger Solutions and Social Compact, entitled “When Healthy Food is Out of Reach: An analysis of the grocery gap in the District of Columbia 2010″ (Press release and full report here.). Throughout the rest of the panel, possible solutions to the “grocery gap” and food access issues in DC were addressed; particularly regarding Wards 7 & 8.

But the panelists also acknowledged that consciousness — rather than mere access to grocery stores — is the crux of the issue. What was really at issue is peoples’ emotional connection to food—and that the matter of consciousness is one that activists and advocates, too, must grapple with. ‘Until you raise your level of consciousness, you can’t raise others,’ stated Tambra.

And if we can approach these problems from a new perspective? Tambra referred to the matter of the Safeway on Rhode Island, and the residents who protested its closing. Tambra said that when she lived in the neighborhood, she wouldn’t shop in the store. “Sometimes,” she explained, “things need to die for change to occur.”

Vinnie, by comparison, traced a parallel trend through which the land we live has transitioned from agriculture to other uses. He pointed out that agriculture can be everywhere (in urban and rural areas) and employ people. At a time like this, in a community where unemployment is approaching 30%, that kind of claim had the attention of everyone in the room.

“There needs to be a paradigm shift”, Vinnie said. We need to spur this shift among ourselves, and then we can bring it to policymakers. Then we can solve the problem collectively.

One approach that some of the attendees may not have expected: Dennis and Tambra both spoke of the critical importance of the ‘food-faith initiative.’ Not just because that’s a sure path to consciousness — but also because that’s where you find many of the people who’ve shaped these communities. Churches, by the way, have both kitchens and land that could be used for gardening.

Indeed, a series of questioners presented the panel with community initiatives — many church-based — that most of the audience had never heard of before.

If we can somehow work together, connecting the dots among all the work that’s being done to improve our food infrastructure, Tambra suggested at the conclusion of the panel that perhaps one day we’ll be picking up vegetable rinds and apple cores from the sidewalks, rather than candy bar wrappers.

Bikeloc Cookoff and Fundraiser Launch Tonight!

This summer, Robert and Aaron (bikeloc) are biking across America to capture stories of the Local Food Movement through Potlucks, and share them online at Tonight is their launch. Join us tonight at 7:30 for our cookoff/fundraiser/potluck (bluegrass included). This is our last stop before officially starting our journey in Hardwick, Vermont, on Sunday. [...]

Rounding up Reusable Bags

Cross-posted from Beyond Bread.

Although we support the environmental objectives of DC’s new bag tax, we also can’t ignore the cumulative effect of a 5 cent per-bag fee on our clients. Clients are already turning to us because they fell short each month — so even seemingly small extra fees do have an impact on them.

This also means that Bread for the City can be a critical gateway point for efforts to mitigate the regressive effect of this law. So we are pleased to report that since the passage of the Bag Bill, Bread for the City has received more than 8,000 reusable bags to distribute to our clients.

We are keeping track of every bag we hand out, and encouraging clients to bring back their bag next time. Early indications suggest that our clients are adapting quickly. Clients are already coming back with our reusable bags in hand, as well as others that they’ve received elsewhere.

So a special thanks goes out to these large donors: D.D.O.E. (5,500 bags), Whole Foods (2,000 bags), Giant (200 bags), and Target (100 bags).

As impressive as 8,000 bags sounds, it leaves us far from our goal of one reusable bag provided to each client. Even before the passage of the law, however, Safeway pledged to donate a large amount of reusable bags. By fulfilling its pledge, Safeway would put us considerably farther along down the path to a bag per client.

While we wait for Safeway to come through, we’re continuing to search for more bags for our clients. That’s why we are kicking off a reusable bag campaign: now you can help!