Author Archive

10.10.10: city-wide day of sustainable food action

On October 10th, 2010, 350.org is calling upon people across the world to take actions that will make their communities more sustainable.

So on 10.10.10, 350 is organizing mass actions at the White House and the Washington Monument, designed to send messages to the White House and Congress, urging them to take the lead on stopping climate change.

Meanwhile, here in the District of Columbia, we are getting to work. Members of the DC Food For All are convening workdays at community garden sites across the city.

Then we’ll all join together at Bread for the City Northwest to celebrate with the Hip Hop Caucus, Roadside Organics, and Live Green. Local chefs preparing local food with local hip hop acts in the early afternoon, and a community potluck of sustainable food in the evening. Sneak previews of Bread for the City’s new facility, complete with green roof-top garden.

See the Kickstarter page for the Sustainable Food Block Party here. The event is free, but donations will go to help build Bread for the City’s new rooftop community garden.

With that announced, sign up for one of the events below!

Groundwork Anacostia invites you to the Mayfair Community Center (3744 1/2 Hayes Street N.E.), a new community garden site, where volunteers will help build build raised beds, lay soil, and learn about community gardening techniques and strategies. They need 15-20 volunteers to get down and dirty. The action will be from 9am-12pm, followed by rides back to Bread for the City NW for the Sustainable Food Block Party. Contact Dennis Chestnut of Groundwork Anacostia or email dcfoodforall@gmail.com.

The Farm at Walker Jones needs 5 to 10 volunteers to help building a new compost bin. Come see our 3/4 acre farm in the middle of the city, check out our composting system and our large worm farm. 9-noon on 10/10/10. The Farm at Walker Jones is located at the corner of NJ and K Streets NW. Contact sidraforman@gmail.com for more information.

The Virginia Avenue Park Community Garden (corner of L St & 9th St SE) invites you to a fall harvest gathering! From 12-4pm, bring friends and family to learn how-to plant your own food, care for it, and harvest it. Get gardening tips and tricks and try them out in our garden! Volunteers will be needed before and at the event, for planting, harvesting, and compost-turning. Before the event, volunteers can help make, print, and hand-out flyers. Email Karin Edgett and check out their Facebook Page.

There will also be a big bike tour, sponsored by WABA, of most of these sites and more! Email DCFoodForAll@gmail.com for more info. And stay tuned…

The Radical Notion of Eating Together

Yesterday I posted the statement presented by the People’s Movement Assembly on Food Justice at the US Social Forum in Detroit last month. The statement is a collective declaration — of the shared principles and intentions (“re-building local food economies in our own communities, dismantling structural racism, democratizing land access, building opportunities for the leadership of our youth, and working towards food sovereignty in partnership with social movements around the world…”).

As I reported during the Social Forum, many of these principles and intentions can be seen in practice in Detroit. My reporting there only scratched the surface of the work that’s been done — and one of the things I learned was how much discussion and collective self-reflection had come before (and in the course of) meaningful action.

In the particular case of Detroit, the local food movement engaged in a series of workshops (facilitated by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond) focused on confronting and dismantling racism in both the industrial food system and the movement itself. Participants analyzed race and power dynamics, and emerged with a shared set of ideas and vocabulary with which they can collaboratively work to restructure those dynamics.

During the People’s Movement Assembly on Food Justice at the Social Forum, participants formed a breakout group to focus specifically on this process of dismantling racism in the food system. As a white person of privilege working towards food justice in low-income, largely black communities in DC, I was grateful for the opportunity to join this group and learn more about my own role. Several leaders of Detroit’s movement helped facilitate the conversation, and we worked hard to consider what broad lessons could be drawn from their experience. The need (and desire) for greater dialogue was shared by all at the table, but many local food movements might not yet be at a point where it’s possible to gather the right set of people together in a room for a deep analysis of race, power, and white supremacy.

Yet we have to start the process somewhere (and, like it or not, that process is really best started in a placenot on a blog).

Fortunately, one promising answer can be found within the very stuff of this movement: food itself. More specifically, the way that social capital is generated by the growing, preparing, and eating of food. Several participants of the subgroup shared insights into how simple, deliberate community meals are used in their community to create spaces for dialogue and relationship-building. The Detroit folks recalled that their community’s dismantling racism workshops were, in fact, an idea that germinated in the course of a series of dinners among the movement’s leaders.

And so our Dismantling Racism subgroup of the Food Justice People’s Movement Assembly at the 2010 US Social Forum concluded with the presentation of what some may consider a “radical notion”: that we should gather people together in our communities to collaboratively prepare food, eat the food, and talk about the food.

Personally, I was energized and encouraged by this experience; after all, the DC Food For All launched 9 months ago in this very way. Relationships forged in the course of these early meals continue to bear fruit today. So I’m sharing the text of the proposal forged in Detroit here in hopes that we can experiment with these accessible, social, and political community-building meals here in DC.

A proposal for dismantling racism: Let’s eat together

{Click to read the full post.}

After the Forum: People’s Movement Assembly towards Food Justice

The Social Forum — which convened in Detroit just last month — “is a movement building process… [that] provides spaces to learn 
from each other’s experiences and struggles, share our analysis of the problems 
our communities face, build relationships, and align with our international 
brothers and sisters to strategize how to reclaim our world.” It’ll be another three years before the US Social Forum convenes again, but in the meantime the process of the Social Forum is ongoing — as people from different movements, backgrounds and regions continue to deliberate and act upon solutions to the 
economic and ecological crisis.

An essential component of this process are People’s Movement Assemblies (PMA). PMAs are gatherings of people (25, 250 or more) that come together to collectively identify community issues, discuss solutions, and commit to actions.

Before the USSF2010 in Detroit, the Greater DC Social Forum (organized largely by attendees of USSF2007 in Atlanta) convened a DC People’s Movement Assembly. The Greater DC Social Forum will now convene another DC-area People’s Movement Assembly on August 7th, at 11AM at Plymouth Congregational UCC (5301 N Capitol Street NE). Attendees of USSF2010 will share the experience and ideas that they brought back from Detroit — however, this event is open to anyone who wants to work towards a better greater DC. (You can RSVP on Facebook here.)

At the pre-Detroit People’s Movement Assembly here in DC, some attendees had conversations about food justice issues—but there was not yet a PMA group self-organized around the subject. Well I am pleased to report that the signs of food justice movements across the country are strong! The challenges we face are great, but so are our opportunities. (I previously blogged about food sovereignty in Detroit here.) The USSF2010 Food Justice PMA assembled a diverse and exciting set of people, ideas, and proposals — consolidating it all into one statement to be shared with the broader Social Forum.

So, with hope that food justice/sovereignty will become an active thread of the Greater DC Social Forum process, I’m happy to share the Food Sovereignty People’s Movement Assembly resolution below. Let’s consider this document as we continue our conversation on August 7th and beyond.

Statement from the People’s Movement Assembly on Food Sovereignty, US Social Forum 2010

Over a half-century ago, Mahatma Gandhi led a multitude of Indians to the sea to make salt—in defiance of the British Empire’s monopoly on this resource critical to people’s diet. The action catalyzed the fragmented movement for Indian independence and was the beginning of the end for Britain’s rule over India. The act of “making salt” has since been repeated many times in many forms by people’s movements seeking liberation, justice and sovereignty: Cesar Chavez, Nelson Mandela, and the Zapatistas are just a few of the most prominent examples. Our food movement— one that spans the globe—seeks food sovereignty from the monopolies that dominate our food systems with the complicity of our governments. We are powerful, creative, committed and diverse. It is our time to make salt.

A movement for food sovereignty – the people’s democratic control of the food system, the right of all people to healthy, culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems - is building from every corner of the globe.

{Read more below}

Another world is possible: a view from Detroit

Spirit of Detroit Hello from Detroit, site of the 2010 US Social Forum and Allied Media Conference! I attended a remarkable opening session on Tuesday about the city’s local food movement, and want to share some of this experience because its themes are critically important to consider for those of us invested in the effort to change urban community food infrastructures.

The city of Detroit was built for 2 million people — but in the course of at least four decades of accelerated economic decay, its population has fallen well under half that. The city occupies 139 square miles; at least 40 square miles now lie abandoned. One fifth of Detroit residents don’t have access to transportation, period. The last major grocer in Detroit closed in 2007, leaving a vast desert spotted with “fringe markets” in corner stores (with few oases).

All of which points to a primary reason why the US Social Forum is hosted here: Detroit is “Ground Zero” for the various intersecting crises of post-industrial capitalism, including the crisis of our modern food infrastructure. The city’s struggle demands our attention — especially because of the many green shoots of renewal that can be found (for instance, an estimated 1,300 community gardens and farms).
The Farnsworth St Garden, where I was hosted for the weekend
One of the session’s speakers was Patrick Crouch of Earthworks, which works in conjunction with one of the city’s oldest soup kitchens. Earthworks engages in urban agriculture and community education, and is part of a network of activists working to reclaim community food sovereignty. For example, Patrick briefly described ongoing efforts to encourage Detroit’s fringe markets to source fresh local foods–similar to the Healthy Corner Stores project in DC.

Patrick’s role in this session, however, deliberately reflected his role in the community: as a white transplant to Detroit, Patrick works to support the leadership and sovereignty of Detroit’s indigenous black communities.

Since 2006, such sovereignty has been formally represented by the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (the acronymically vowel-free DBCFSN). Monica White, board member and professor at Wayne State University, explained that not only is Detroit’s population 85% black, but “there’s a long history of urban agriculture here — agrarian roots stretching back more than a century.”
Monica speaks to the USSF
And yet, Monica explained, as Detroit’s economic and structural collapse accelerated in the past decade, the food movement was gaining momentum — bringing a swell of foundations, developers, corporations and activists into the city, looking for paths of renewal. (A big-business proposal for massive conversion of vacant land into large-scale agriculture, for instance, is both breathtakingly ambitious and also fairly described as “reminiscent of a plantation.”) The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network formed to ensure that the indigenous community’s voice was not only at the table, but setting the agenda.

(Image here copped from the NYC Food Justice Coalition’s blog, a great read on the Social Forum.)

(Post continued here…)

Expansion of Food Stamps in the District

Today, the Washington Informer reports on the expansion of food stamps in the District, as celebrated at Bread for the City last week in a press conference with Councilmembers Michael Brown (I-At Large) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3).

The actual implementation of the Food Stamp Expansion Act (introduced by Brown and unanimously approved by the Council) was way delayed, but finally an additional 4,800 DC residents are eligible for food assistance. It’s good news at a time when the low-income residents of DC need more of it.

But can we just take a step back to last week, when the Washington Post covered this story? (I know it’s lame to blog about something that’s like a whole week old; yet it was a busy week around here, and there’s something about the Post’s article that really sticks in the craw.) Check out how WaPo’s Tim Craig caps off his article with an out-of-nowhere conclusion:

“Still, for some residents both inside and outside the city, the fact that city officials are bragging about increasing the District’s food stamps rolls is sure to generate debate, and reinforce conservatives’ criticisms of the District government’s priorities.”

Okay — hold on. Is that a fact that Craig is reporting? Is such a debate actually happening somewhere? Would any District resident really think it’s a bad idea for our city government to claim federal funding (free money!) that will both alleviate miserable hunger and stimulate $1.73 of local economic activity for every $1 of food stamps? Or was this paragraph written because the practice of journalism demands that the ‘other side’ get its say, regardless of reason, morals, or even presence?

We are not journalists, so maybe we just don’t understand. But we do think that Craig could have put this precious column space to better use by, say, reporting on the fact that Councilmember Mary Cheh has another food stamp expansion bill in the works, one which will bring relief to 4,000 more District residents (working families, homeless people, and self-employed individuals) and is already unanimously-supported by Council. That sounds like news to us.

Letter from FRESHFARM to DC: Make WIC work!

We received this letter that Bernie Prince, co-founder of FRESHFARM Market, sent to Dr. Pierre Vigilance of DC’s Department of Health earlier this week.

Ms. Prince notes that the new WIC Fruit and Vegetable Cash Voucher Program — which enables low-income mothers to redeem food assistance coupons at farmers markets — is currently limited by a registration process that hampers farmer participation. As reported here recently, farmers had only one opportunity (this past Wednesday) to train and register to accept WIC vouchers. Ms. Prince notes that there are other options to increase community participation in this promising program.

##

March 9, 2010

Dr. Pierre Vigilance
D.C. Department of Health
Washington, D.C.

Dear Dr. Vigilance:

I am writing to you on behalf of WIC recipients in Washington, D.C. and Maryland to urge you to expand access to fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables for low-income families. At FRESHFARM Markets, we were pleased to learn that D.C. will authorize market vendors to accept WIC Fruit and Vegetable Cash Value Voucher coupons (FVC). We applaud you for participating in this new program, and appreciate the District’s continued participation in the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP).

Unfortunately, based on feedback from farmers, we are concerned that the new FVC program will not reach its full potential here. One major hurdle is the training to participate. As you may be aware, there is currently one training session available, on March 10, in Greenbelt, MD. The training runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will require a two- to three-hour drive for many of our market farmers. The very same training for farmers market producers in Maryland covers all the necessary material in about one hour. In addition, while D.C. WIC farmers market coordinator Sabrina Lewis has scheduled just one training, James Butler, of Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, is planning multiple training sessions on 13 different dates in Greenbelt, Annapolis, Hagerstown, Baltimore, and Denton.

Based on a preliminary survey of farmers and our own experience, Maryland’s approach will significantly increase farmer participation. A member of the group DC Food for All, Daniel White, has conducted interviews with four of the farms that are most ubiquitous at markets within the District. One resounding finding: Farmers will not take part in a new or existing WIC program if it requires a large time investment and small earnings. The current training opportunities, in addition to other complaints such as the complex process of using WIC checks and delays in reimbursement, could limit the number of farmers willing to sell to low-income mothers.

I believe there is a simple step you can take to improve farmer participation in the WIC programs at farmers markets. Maryland and D.C. could craft an agreement to accept training for the FVC and FMNP across District and state lines.

Workshop tomorrow.

Blogging’s great and everything, but here at the DC Food For All we also like to actually see each other in person every so often. So each month we host a workshop at Bread for the City , where participants set the agenda, learn from each other, and of course share a delicious dinner.

The next workshop is tomorrow at 6pm! Bread for the City is located at 1525 7th St NW, right by the Shaw metro. Email us to RSVP, or join the Google Group to stay posted in the meantime.

Funding for Common Good City Farm in trouble?

[UPDATE from our friends at Common Good: The Council has explicitly APPROVED the funding reprogramming for the Park at Gage Eckington. So we are back on track! ~Thomas appears to have changed his position, with Graham's encouragement.]

Common Good City Farm – featured often here on the DC Food For All, a key locus of the local urban agriculture movement – is located on a 3-acre site where the Gage-Eckington School once stood. For over two years the communities of LeDroit Park, Bloomingdale and Eckington have worked with the Mayor and his offices to make sure the site turns into a public community park space. It has been a true grassroots effort, with many people pitching in to overcome challenges and build a community center for health, recreation, and education.

Today it faces another challenge.

This morning, the community discovered that Councilmember Harry Thomas (Ward 5) added an item to the DC Council agenda to “Disapprove” of the funds for the park being as planned allocated to the Mayor’s office.

Such a resolution would essentially stall progress on the development of this site and support for Common Good City Farm. This action is in baffling contrast to Thomas’s own previous declarations — such as an assurance that he wrote to constituents, stating that he “I will continue to support a contract process that moves this project forward and ensures its completion.”

Please help Common Good City Farm and all of our neighbors. As soon as you can, please write to or call the office of Harry Thomas, Committee on Libraries, Parks & Recreation (hthomas@dccouncil.us (202) 724-8028) (or the other committee members listed below).

Declare your support for the Gage-Eckington park development, and your opposition to Thomas’s resolution. Assure our leaders that we will hold them responsible for obstruction of positive community development such as this.

Committee Members:
David A. Catania dcatania@dccouncil.us (202) 724-7772
Kwame R. Brown kbrown@dccouncil.us (202) 724-8174
Phil Mendelson pmendelson@dccouncil.us (202) 724-8064
Yvette Alexander yalexander@dccouncil.us (202) 724-8068