4 Innovative Community Food Projects Empowering Low-Income Residents
There are many community food organizations working hard to create a more sustainable and equitable food system. Through urban farms, school gardens, school lunch programs and more, these groups are alleviating food insecurity and building food justice in America. WhyHunger, which supports community-based organizations that seek solutions to underlying causes of hunger and connect people with quality food, has been documenting these community members' stories through its project, Community Voices.
These projects have been made possible in part through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Community Food Project, which funds projects to increase food security. Here are four stories of organizations working to empower low-income communities with access to fresh and healthy food:
Community Services Unlimited
Community Services Unlimited (CSU) has been serving South Los Angeles for decades through its food justice efforts. CSU now has a number of programs. The first, From the Ground Up, is a youth training internship developing leaders in food and social justice. Another is Growing Healthy, which works with younger children to teach them nutrition and the basic tenets of food security and food justice. The third program is the Home Garden project, which encourages, educates and provides resources for residents wishing to grow their own food. And lastly, there is the Village Market Place, a social enterprise program that puts all of CSU's other three programs to work in the community.
Daniella, who was raised along with her seven siblings by her dad after her mom walked out on them, has been able to graduate high school and work for CSU in the Village Market Place. This is her third year with CSU. After working in the garden for two years, she now serves at the Village Market Place café. She makes healthy lunches and "produce bags," which are a "sort of week-by-week-purchase program similar to a CSA share, but more conducive to EBT consumers who can’t pay lump sums at the beginning of the growing season, as in the traditional CSA model."
Irene, also one of eight with a single mother, is enrolled in the Village Market Place program, too. She, like Daniella, interned before being hired on. Both young women want to go to college and eventually get out of South Central, but they want to continue to help their community and are grateful to CSU for providing them the opportunity to earn a wage and help their community.
The Ecology Center
Berkeley, California, home to the Ecology Center, does not exactly bring to mind images of poverty and food insecurity. But,"Berkeley has deep pockets of poverty and health disparities," according to Martin Bourque, executive director of the Ecology Center. “Part of our Community Food Project grant evaluation work included a 1999 health status report that correlated race and income with health outcomes. To see it on paper and understand that connection was fairly ground-shaking for the community," Bourque said.
So, after more surveys, the Ecology Center found that they needed to place farm stands near regular transit, and the stands needed to be set up with a culturally appropriate context. The center trained local youth like David McClellan to manage the stands so that "the seller matches the buyer, [which] breaks down a common problem in cities like Berkeley where lower-income residents view 'organic farm stands' as elitist and not for them." McClellan didn't know the first thing about farming or healthy food. He regularly ate at (gasp) fast food restaurants.
But that all changed when he was mandated to complete 80 hours of court-ordered service at the Ecology Center. In the three weeks it took for him to complete his hours, in which he scrubbed walls and painted classrooms, he also attended the events at the Ecology Center. HuNia, the Farm Fresh manager, saw his potential and offered him an internship. Farm Fresh Choice, one of the center's programs, "coordinates, markets, staffs and stocks produce stands in Berkeley."
McClellan worked his way up to stand manager and now he manages all three of the stands, picks up the food and handles all of the logistics of the market. He started school at Berkeley City College in 2013, but still manages the market. He said, "Out of high school I just thought I wanted to play football or be a sports agent. But this food thing has come out of nowhere. Now I think about being a nutritionist and teaching other people."
Fare Start, a Seattle, Washington nonprofit working to address food security, prepares meals for school lunches, childcare centers and homeless shelters using healthy, fresh and local food. The revenue generated from the contracted meals goes directly towards funding its job training and placement programs. Disadvantaged and homeless men and women and at-risk teens participate in a job training program in Fare Start's kitchen to help place them back in the workforce.
The program, in operation since 1992, has graduated more than 150 students in recent years—80 percent of whom go on to find living-wage employment—and has provided more than 6 million meals to disadvantaged men, women and children. Its success has gone nationwide with the launch of Catalyst Kitchens to bring similar programming to other communities.
This amazing program supports local farmers, offers meaningful work for those without a job and provides children with nutritious food. It's this kind of "full-circle" approach to changing our food system that we so desperately need. The goal of the healthy lunch program in schools is to create a sustainable market that supports local farmers (45 percent of the school lunch food is sourced from Washington farms) and improves school lunch nutrition for 250,000 children.
Athens Land Trust
The Athens Land Trust has found a way to get around the city's ban on the sale of food grown in residentially zoned areas. This nonprofit in Athens, Georgia has partnered up with a school in Hancock Corridor, a neighborhood with a poverty rate of 57 percent and an unemployment rate of 16 percent. Since it’s a school, the land trust can have a market farm on the spacious, vacant schoolyard.
Four neighborhood residents have the opportunity to participate in a farmer-training program and earn a small wage for their twenty hours of work per week. Twenty more volunteers can each take home a box of produce when they contribute five hours of work per week. The rest of the produce operates as a "u-pick."
The Athens Land Trust was able to start another garden across town at the Athena Gardens, an apartment complex for low-income senior citizens. The residents share a large backyard and occasionally share meals, such as a spaghetti dinner, where 49 residents shared 65 pounds of greens harvested from the season's first planting. Deborah Collela manages the garden with the help of the maintenance supervisor for the center, Mike, and plenty of eager residents looking to get their hands dirty.
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Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
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While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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