Food Security, Food Sustainability, Local Food availability

“…if you ain’t a gardener, you ain’t gangsta.”

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Food deserts. Perhaps you’ve heard of them. South Central Los Angeles is one big food desert. What is a food desert? It’s a place where you have lower to lowest incomes, fast food outlets everywhere and a not a fresh fruit or vegetable in sight. Ron Finley lives in South Central. He is an artist and, obviously, a big idea guy. He started using city land to grow food and his story is awesome. Here is his TED talk from this past February.

I’m thinking now about how to make gardening more gangsta. We need more local produce. That is becoming clear in my research. We need more to increase supply to meet the growing demand, more to increase competition and keep prices realistic. A challenge I’ve discovered is to how to make it sustainable to be a farmer. If farmers can’t earn a decent living, we won’t have any farmers. How do we balance that decent living with food prices that average people can pay?

“Funny thing about sustainability is that it has to be sustainable.”

Urban farming is a huge piece of the puzzle. It grows food that is accessible to those who need it, often at no cost to them. It teaches youth about where food comes from and what it takes to make it happen. As Ron says, “if a kid grows kale, he eats kale”. I love what Ron is doing. Fresh Roots and Sole Food Street Farm are doing similar things in Vancouver.

Food security is what we call a “wicked problem”. It is like a hydra with whipping tentacles everywhere. It will take people like Ron Finley; Ilana Labow and Marc Shutzbank from Fresh Roots; and Michael Ableman and Seann J Dory from Sole Foods to contribute to slaying this beast. I hope to add my shovel to the battle.

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Food Security, Food Sustainability, Local Food availability

Narrowing the Field

I’m learning so much, just through secondary research on this project. It’s really overwhelming. There are so many people doing so many good things here in the Greater Vancouver Region as well as throughout Canada and the U.S. It helps me better understand where my work might fit and help. I’m so impressed with organizations like Fresh Roots, the Truck Farm, Victory Gardens, Vancouver Fruit Tree Project, The Sharing Farm and Urban Edibles for doing things large and small to get people closer to the sources of their food. I get excited about backyard chickens and locally, organically raised meats, but I want to focus on my core goal: find a way to make locally grown produce more affordable and accessible in Metro Vancouver.

People like Fresh Roots and the Truck Farm are finding unique ways to grow food and connect the community. Others are making sure that more and more locally (and when possible, organically) grown produce is available. I have over eighty responses to my survey (and I hope you will take the time to do it as well) which tells me that people are very motivated to buy local produce, but it can be inconvenient to either find it or get to it, and it is often more expensive. If it can be made more available and more reasonably priced, people in Metro Vancouver will buy it.

Many have told me that they would choose organic over local, which is an ongoing struggle for a lot of people, including me. When I think about the needs of people on fixed or limited incomes, however, I feel that local has to come first as growing organically costs farmers more and by default must cost more at the point of purchase. At best it’s a nice-to-have for lower income families. The nutritional value and freshness of local produce should be available to all families, regardless of their income and that is my goal. I’m not specifically focused on lower-income, but my goal is to have this be inclusive.

I’m making lists of the people I want to interview now. I will also ask some of my subjects to allow me into their homes to talk about food and cooking as well as to tag along with them on a shopping trip to document their process to put nutritious food on the table. I will keep you posted as I work through this discovery process.

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