Author Archive

Beginner’s mind: Reflecting on race

Over the past several months, I’ve been exploring what it might take to build a nourishing food system in DC. I’ve had the privilege of hearing ideas from different individuals and groups about what collaboration could look like and how something like a food policy council might help move the city as a whole in the right direction.

To me, the discussions have been exciting and the possibilities seem both endless and achievable. It’s also apparent that the work goes far beyond generating good policy ideas. Speaking with groups who’ve been living and working in the city for a long time, it becomes increasingly clear that as a white, young, relatively new arrival to the district, and someone who came from a pretty comfortable economic background, I need to spend some time reflecting on my identity and role.

It’s no secret that across the country, the impact of a broken food system is disproportionately felt by communities of color. In DC in particular, parts of the city with higher concentration of African Americans often have higher rates of poverty, lower access to healthy and affordable foods, and higher rates of the accompanying diet-related diseases.

Studies and facts are easy to find, yet less often do I find them accompanied by thoughtful analysis of why and of the reality of a racist food system that has been built and perpetuated throughout our nation’s and our city’s history. “Race & the Food System,” a project of WHY Hunger and Growing Food and Justice For All Initiative, explores some of that history and the present reality. From low-cost labor inputs from immigrant workers, to the discriminatory treatment of black farmers by the USDA, to the ongoing unequal wages and employment patterns across all aspects of the food system – it’s clear that race matters.

WHY Hunger and GFJI breaks it down: “The problem is systemic; therefore, the solution must be approached with an eye towards understanding those systems and how to change them.” So what does systemic change in DC look like? And how might something like a food policy council play a role?

As a starting place, it’s clear that white people like me must reflect on our identity (and the privileges that have come with it) and take responsibility for our place in an unjust system. Next, I hope we can prioritize listening and learning – about the history of food and racism in this city, about how ways of working on food politics might perpetuate some of those injustices, about work that’s already being done and ideas that people already have about how to fix it. (I’m excited about this week’s National Black Agricultural Awareness Week as one of those opportunities to reflect and learn. Learn more here )

We can gain strength for the long journey by knowing other cities have made progress – white people and people of color together building the kind of just, transparent, welcoming community needed to do this hard work. Some cities, like Detroit and Oakland, have explicitly built diverse representation and ownership into the mandate and mission of their food policy councils. Others have used participatory action research to engage as broad of a spectrum of impacted groups and individuals as possible in creating and implementing a ‘food systems plan.’ And some, like Toronto’s organized food community, took a few steps back through public conversations and gatherings, with the support of the Growing Food and Justice for All Initiative’s Toronto chapter.

The Community Food Security Coalition summarizes the aim: “In order to dismantle the structural racism within our food system, we must make a determined effort to cultivate and increase the leadership, voice, perspectives and demands of low-income communities of color within the food movement.”  I hope that our work in DC can be shaped by that vision.

Conference Reportback: Building a Mindful Movement

[Cross-posted on the Bread for the City blog]

Earlier this summer, Louise Thundercloud, Angie Stackhouse and I represented Bread for the City at the Community Food Security Coalition’s (CFSC) “From Neighborhood To Nation” Conference in Portland, OR. This event convened people from across the country who are working to promote local and state-level policies for healthier and more just food systems.

Set in a city whose mayor owns chickens and dedicates city hall land to the production of food for local homeless shelters, the conference had no shortage of government-driven food-policy role models. We learned about progressive and impressive urban agriculture policies and programs in Baltimore, healthy food systems resolutions in Cleveland, coordination across Michigan’s cities to identify shared infrastructure needs, and Seattle’s efforts to link local legislation to national Farm Bill policies.

Healty Food Access: What’s the Farm Bill got to do with it?

[Cross-posted from the Neighborhood Farm Initiative's blog]

Every five years, Congress gets to work on the nearly 300-billion dollar piece of legislation known as the “Farm Bill” – an “omnibus” bill that addresses everything from farm subsidies to commodity growers to SNAP and other programs to support those in need, from foreign food aid to grants from community food programs.

These policies combined set the framework for what and how we eat, and whether our food is nourishing and affordable, what assistance our society provides to feed hungry people. Set to expire in 2012, the most recent Farm Bill included some improvements, but still disproportionately supports a food system dominated by the large-scale, agribusiness approach to agriculture.

At the same time, here in DC, folks have been talking about how our food system is broken – more than one in eight families classify as food insecure, and nearly half of DC residents are overweight or obese. While the NFI & the DC Field to Fork Network believes that community gardens and urban food production can be part of the solution to these challenges, we can also join our voices together to demand systemic change.

Across the country and here in DC, the support for local farmers, fresh and healthy food, gardening, and farmers markets has reached new levels of enthusiasm. That enthusiasm for a new food system, however, has yet to be translated into new food policy. To achieve a Farm Bill that supports the kind of food system we want – one that nourishes our bodies, our land, and our communities – we’ve got to get involved!

Here’s one opportunity: the Neighborhood Farm Initiative is hosting Food and Water Watch for a conversation about the Farm Bill at our next Saturday morning workday! Join us for the Mamie D. Lee Community Garden clean-up day on Saturday, June 4th from 10 a.m. – noon. Then, stick around for a potluck and discussion beginning at noon!

The garden located right between the Mamie D. Lee school (100 Gallatin Street NE) and the Ft Totten Metro Station (Red, Yellow, & Green Lines) From the metro station, turn left (north) and walk up the sidewalk past where the buses stop.

Want to learn more? Check out Food and Water watch’s webiste, or one of my favorite facebook pages – Understanding the Farm Bill. Want to have one of these discussions in your garden or garden spaces? Contact or for more.

Spring volunteer opportunities at DC’s urban farms!

Did you know that the Field to Fork Network tracks and compiles recurring volunteer opportunities with farms and gardens in DC? Check out this post from the Field to Fork Network’s Bea Trickett:

Check out DC Field to Fork Network’s recently updated events calendar, now featuring recurring volunteer opportunities where you can get involved with DC’s local urban farm and non-profit garden projects!! Different sites have different policies about volunteering and whether you need to go through a volunteer orientation, whether you need to RSVP, or whether you can simply show up day-of – so be sure to click on the event listing for more info on the specific project you’re interested in. Some sites can take large groups of volunteers and others are seeking just individuals.

Depending on the weather, the project, and the season, you could expect to be:

  • digging
  • weeding
  • turning, sifting, or spreading compost
  • making woodchip paths
  • planting
  • mulching
  • picking up trash
  • painting
  • building
  • assisting with special events or programs, or
  • performing pretty much any other general organic garden maintenance tasks!!

You can be sure that wherever you volunteer, you will definitely get your hands dirty and your hard work will certainly be appreciated!

For more information, or to add events, visit the DC Field to Fork Network website or email

Food Justice: Upcoming Author Event and Discussion

Join us for next week for a discussion and author event at Bread for the City’s Northwest Center on the topic of Food Justice – featuring Food Justice co-author Robert Gottlieb, local food justice advocate Louise Thundercloud, and many others involved in food, nutrition, and justice in the District.

Wednesday, April 6th
6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Bread for the City
1525 7th Street Northwest

We’ll be talking a bit about issues and inequities in today’s food system – from the farm workers’ hazardous conditions, to the fact that low-income neighborhoods lack supermarkets, to the emphasis on convenience rather than quality and nutrition in food marketing today. Robert Gottlieb will share perspectives on a nation-wide movement that seeks to transform this food system into one that is more just. Then we’ll look more locally – what does food justice mean for D.C. residents? What opportunities and challenges exist in our city? How does Bread for the City’s programs and rooftop garden fit into all this? What can you do to help?

Join us! Event is free but space is limited. Please RSVP to This event is co-hosted by D.C. Farm to School Network, Slow Food D.C., Centro Ashé, and the National Family Farm Coalition.

DC Budget Countdown Begins

The city budget season is just around the corner, and it’s time to start getting involved!

The Mayor will release his proposed budget on April 1st. Another city revenue shortfall – $400-600 million and the biggest yet – means that advocates are expecting whole programs to be on the chopping block.

Last fall, the Mayor proposed eliminating important initiatives such as the Healthy Schools Act as a way to close a gap caused by city revenue shortfall. Outcry from parents, teachers, children, and other healthy schools advocates ensured that those funds were restored, but residents have nevertheless faced too many painful cuts. There have been more than $120 million in reductions to safety net programs in the last three years, even as hunger and food insecurity in the District remain high.

Want to learn more about how to be a strong voice for a fair DC city budget? Bread for the City and others around the city are hosting a series of trainings for anyone interested in learning more about the city’s budget process and how to get involved. These trainings are appropriate for staff of non-profits, curious citizens, volunteers, etc.

Here’s a roundup:

Fair Budget Coalition Meeting
9:00 – 11:00 am, Wednesday March 2nd
True Reformer Building, 1200 U St NW
Guests Eric Goulet (Budget Director for the Mayor) and Jennifer Budoff (Budget Director for the Council) will brief the coalition on the upcoming budget, followed by Q&A.

Bread Budget Training #1
5:30 – 7:30 pm, Monday March 7th
1640 Good Hope Rd SE
Kristi Matthews (Fair Budget Coalition) will lead this training geared toward Bread for the City clients and open to the public. We will talk about the budget process and tools for advocacy.

Bread Budget Training #2
11:30 – 1:30, Tuesday March 8th
1525 7th St NW
Susie Cambria (Consultant Extraordinaire) is leading this training geared toward Bread for the City staff and open to the public. We will learn about the budget process and the roles of various agencies, and discuss strategies for effective campaigns and advocacy.

What’s in Store for FY 2012?
9:30 – 11:30 am, Wednesday March 9th
Goethe Institute, 812 7th St NW
A forum on the latest information and perspectives on the D.C. budget outlook, including panelists Jennifer Budoff, Eric Goulet, Fitzroy Lee (Office of the Chief Financial Officer), Jenny Reed (DC Fiscal Policy Institute).

Bread Budget Training #3
5:30 – 7:30 pm, Monday March 14th
1525 7th St NW
Kristi Matthews will lead this training geared toward Bread for the City clients and open to the public. We will talk about the budget process and tools for advocacy.

Contact Joni Podschun, Advocacy Coordinator at Bread for the City at jpodschun(at) or 202-587-0524 to RSVP or learn more about any of these meetings.

Building movement toward a nourishing D.C.

This post is the fourth in a series from Bread for the City intern Allison Burket exploring the basics of food, hunger, and politics in the District.

In my previous post about food and hunger in the District, I began to explore the political landscape of DC’s food system. We learned there is no shortage of DC agencies that shape how we get food – at least 13 agencies deal with food in our city! – yet no one agency or governing body is responsible for ensuring that DC residents have access to healthy, affordable food.

Meanwhile, moving beyond the public sector, there are numerous efforts throughout the food system to ensure DC residents can enjoy healthy and affordable food.

Here at Bread for the City, we provide fresh, healthy, and tasty groceries for residents through our new-and-improved food pantry, as well as programs like Glean for the City and our new rooftop garden.

And we know of (and work with) many other exciting programs in the community. Healthy Solutions manages a produce buying co-op and runs fresh produce markets in public housing sites East of the River. DC Central Kitchen combines meal preparation for area shelters with innovative job training programs and employment opportunities for its clients, while also supporting local farmers. Common Good City Farm is growing and selling food right in the city, using its farm in LeDroit Park as a community space for sharing food production and preparation skills with neighbors. These and many other groups are improving both the health of our bodies and the health of our communities. (Emphasis on “many”: more than 460 food-related entities are mapped in the DC Food Finder.)

What if they and others could work together better to tackle the interconnected issues of nutrition, employment, poverty, hunger, and the degradation of our environment? What if these groups had a unified voice in the halls of City Council?

A Food Policy Council in DC?

Cities across the country face similar challenges as those in DC – a fractured food policy-making environment, separate organizations addressing different pieces of a broken food system, and lack of transparency and community input in policy decisions. In response, many areas have brought together some combination of non-governmental organizations, citizens, advocates, and government, forming what are often known as food policy councils. (See this DC Food For All post about the Detroit food movement, and the policy council in that city.)

Food policy councils can serve as a forum for food issues, a network to coordinate community action, and a space to address some of the tangible injustices at work in our food system. They do a wide range of work in other cities, counties, and states — from gathering and communicating information about a food system, to crafting policy platforms, to developing collaborative projects to address immediate needs.

Bread for the City is interested in seeing something like a food policy council form in DC, but we also recognize that it will need to include more than policy wonks and non-profit providers if it is to be truly reflective of the interests of our diverse communities. A food policy council would ideally be born of a grassroots, city-wide movement for wellness and food sovereignty that includes residents who themselves have the most at stake in radically changing the food system.

That’s why we’re part of a larger conversation with groups like Groundwork Anacostia, the Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Collaborative, Ecolocity, and ONE DC. Together, we’re hosting a series of brainstorming sessions around the city, starting 3:30-4:30 pm this Saturday at Coolidge High School, as part of Rooting DC – an annual, free urban gardening forum. (Register for Rooting DC by calling 202-638-1649, or learn more about the whole conference by visiting the website.)

We’ll be discussing and envisioning: What would it look like for all DC residents had access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food? What is an idea you have for moving the city, your neighborhood, or your self in that direction? The hope is that the discussion generated from this and upcoming sessions can then shape the formation something like a food policy council – or something completely new and different – in DC. We hope to see you there!

Rooting DC 2011 coming soon!

America the Beautiful Fund and the Field to Fork Network’s 4th annual Rooting DC gardening forum is just around the corner! Rooting DC will be held on Saturday, February 19th from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm at Coolidge High School located at 6315 5th Street, NW.

This day-long, FREE event includes presentations and workshops on community gardens and food policy, healthy cooking demonstrations, and a whole track dedicated to youth and school gardens.

The DC Food For All community is a buzz with excitement – Ibti Vincent gives us a poetic preview of her canning workshop, Bread for the City is preparing for conversations about rooftop gardening and a food policy brainstorm, and the Farm at Walker Jones plugs its session on youth and community gardens. Check back for interviews with presenters and more tantalizing sneak peaks!

Download the full agenda here. Please call the America the Beautiful Fund offices at 202.638.1649 to register immediately.

Interested in volunteering? Photographing, filming, or blogging about the day? Contact to find out how!