Remember that proverb about teaching a man to fish? Now, scale that out to a whole community. Then slap on an RSS feed. Then organize a big fish fry and invite everyone. That’s the idea behind the DC Food For All.
This new project brings together activists, non-profit organizations, food policy experts, gardeners, farmers, and more to exchange ideas about how to bring more affordable, fresh food to DC residents.
And Saturday evening at the Big Bear Café in Bloomingdale, over 100 people — ranging from foodies to activists to people struggling with poverty and homelessness – came together to share gleaned food and knowledge.
In conversations throughout the evening, two issues were consistently mentioned as the main challenges regarding food in our city: access and education.
It’s not easy to get fresh, quality food on a low-income budget, says local resident Louise Thundercloud. And she certainly knows something about how hard it is to come by. Louise has lived in Bloomingale and LeDroit Park area for over 15 years, and was homeless for some of that time.
Louise says she sees fewer and fewer places where low-income residents can find affordable food. In fact, the site of the party itself — the Big Bear Cafe — was once a store where she could find affordable and healthy food. Now that location is long gone, along with other local shops that once catered to low-income residents. Save for a gas station convenience store, the newer shops in the area are out of Louise’s price range.
Resourceful and tenacious, Louise has since found a health food store where she volunteers her time in exchange for food for herself and her daughter. She also picks up monthly packages of food from Bread For the City.
She says that the food provided at Bread for the City has improved greatly in recent years. Louise has asthma, and can’t eat certain foods that aggravate her condition.
“Our clients sometimes can’t even find fresh produce in their neighborhoods,” said Jeffrey Wankel of Bread for the City’s food pantry. Bread for the City’s new Glean for the City program is bringing in tons of fresh produce to the neighborhood every week.
One could find other glimmers of new opportunity at the Big Bear that night. Common Good City Farm in LeDroit Park, for instance, offers weekly bags of fresh food to residents in exchange for two volunteer hours a week in the garden.
“Complex problems have complex solutions,” said Carl Rollins, one of the farm’s volunteer and education coordinators, who also spoke to the crowd. “I like farming because, especially with kids, you can show and teach things like hard work, patience, delayed gratification, nutrition and environmentalism.”
A little bit of all of that went into Saturday evening’s event. The food had been gleaned from farmers’ markets and the Common Good City Farm – and prepared by a slew of different volunteer chefs, including Taw from Thai X-ing, Matthew Ficke of the Internet Food Association, and chef Lane Green along with husband Ed Bruske. Ed writes The Slow Cook blog and is one of DC Food For All’s new contributing editors. The Timor Bodega and Sunset Liquors, both just around the block from the Big Bear Cafe, had also donated to the feast.
Food and community – the simplest and most ancient organizing catalysts. This event was a delicious and stimulating starting point for a network that hopes to connect people, share ideas and multiply the power of minds.