Food Deserts in general fascinate me. The history behind the neighborhoods, cities and states affected by the unavailability of fresh foods and grocery stores is interesting, and in the majority of cases they started decades before people knew that food deserts existed. I decided to stay very close to home and discuss the neighborhood that my family has lived in for the past 55 years. My grandparents purchased their house in 1952. The house is located in the Southeast quadrant of Washington, D.C, in the Benning Road neighborhood. Before Denny’s, a popular 24 hour breakfast “restaurant” opened in 2004, the popular Shrimp Boat eatery was the only source of “whole foods” in my neighborhood since the 1950’s. There were not any grocery stores, supermarkets, or community gardens in my neighborhood in the 1950’s. My neighborhood does have at least 7 fast food chained restaurants, an endless amount of liquor stores, and many small corner stores. It is hard comparing Washington, D.C. statistics to many states because it is a city, and smaller than your average state. Any land that can be marked as “rural” belongs to the National Park Services. D.C also borders Virginia and Maryland, and sometimes they all get tossed in together and people refer to the three separate locations as the DMV, or the Washington, DC Metro Area.
Recently, an organic market has opened in the neighborhood. Media coverage during the first week of the store’s grand opening was heavy. The main question, Will the residents of S.E, D.C utilize the organic market? Was heard throughout the city. The initial response within a few months was no. This grocery store is located off of a highway, and it does not have a parking lot. This alone only allows for travel by foot, or bike, and if you are feeding a family of 3 or more buying groceries here and transporting them home is out of the question.
The media surrounding the Organic Supermarket and a recent summer job with Arcadia’s Farm to School Network inspired my blog. Over the summer I worked with elementary school children, and the mission of my project was to introduce the children to “new fruits and vegetables.” The foods introduced seemed common to me, however I noticed for the first time that to some children, and adults that these foods were foreign. I came across many skeptical and curious children, similar to anyone trying anything for the first time. When I returned to Tufts in the fall of 2012, I was met by a community garden at my job. Similar to the children that I worked with over the summer, after the first fruits were prepared to eat, a student that I have tutored for over 3 years explained to us that he did not know what an orange was. Shocked by the same event within months, I already had an idea fueling the creation of my blog.
Before entering this course Arcadia was the only connection I had with food. My family buys locally grown food, and supports the community garden but I never thought anything of it. This course has opened my eyes to many food movements. In class on the 28th of January, we discussed an article, “American Agrarianism in the 21st Century,” this piece covered topics from the sudden rise in community supported agriculture, and First Lady Michelle Obama’s movement for fresh and healthier foods not only within the United States, but within the public school system as well. The majority of the course always related back to the question of sustainability and urban farming.
Working in the Willis Ave Community Center Garden this week reminded me of all of the power structures that surround the actual garden. Yes, Leah created the garden within the space of the community, but one of my biggest fear is that one day the Housing Authority might declare her use of the space as unimportant and replace it with the park benches that once stood there. Or maybe the small number of families that do support might lose time to help out, or they may move away. Comparing this to the farmers in California, from the film, The Garden it is a very scary situation. They watched everything they grew and worked hard for stolen away from them and replaced with a dirt covered soccer field. The film, The Garden portrayed two types of farmers, the recreational farmer, and the surviving farmer. The recreational farmer, farms as a hobby, they farm to eat but they are not farming to survive like some families in the film. The film showed families who depended on the growth of the crops for food at home, and to sell at the market. Although two types of farmers were contrasted they all seemed to share the history of their ancestors connection to the land. They farmed because that is what their ancestors did, and that is how their ancestors survived. And when their farm was removed so was their history.
In Back to the Land, Dona Brown talks about the first every food movement as being a result of the stock market crash. People in the city realized that the city was not a strong foundation, and moved to rural areas in order to farm. The success of many famers spread quickly through word of mouth, and agriculture based magazines. Similar to many movements today, social media and websites help with the promotion and production of ideas.
Farmers markets have existed in Washington, D.C as far as the 1800’s. Eastern Market is a popular market for many families in the D.C area. Since its creation, Eastern market has expanded and you can now purchase everything from jewelry to furniture inside and outside of the market. A small portion of me wants to question why it is slowing becoming a mall, but people seem to enjoy its location and the history behind it.
Community gardens are popping up all over Washington, D.C. Cities such as D.C are a perfect example of urban gardens, because the majority of the city is covered in pavement and office buildings. A small area will hold a parking lot, and share some space with its community for gardening and farming. Some locations are a site to see. I knew community gardens existed before this course, but I notice them more and I have a stronger appreciation for the community who is able to raise and support its garden.
This course opened my eyes to many ideas surrounding food production. I remember the excitement surrounding this course when it was introduced. I did not know so many students, were interested in this course. Outside of anthropology, I heard a few people who are majoring in community health discuss their disappointment about the class being so small. Now that this semester is closing I can fully understand, and own my own excitement for this subject matter. I was worried towards the beginning of the course. I felt that besides the strawberries I planted around the age of 5, Arcadia was all I knew about the food movement, and my work with Arcadia only lasted five weeks. The food movement surrounds my everyday life, from my community, to Tufts.
Through this course, and my blog I also discovered how deeply involved my mother is with bringing in healthier foods to the public school in which she works at, and introducing children to healthier options. The first thing my mother told me to post on my blog was the voting website to bring flowers and vegetables to her school. I am glad that I am new to the many ideas involved with food activism. If the information I have learned throughout this course was not new to me it would have been hard for me to keep my blog focused.
The main focus point of my blog is Food Deserts within Washington, D.C. Community gardens, location, and race play a major role on my post. These ideas intersect and connect on so many levels. Community gardens can be viewed as a small option of ridding the city of food deserts. Location is another big intersecting idea. Through location you can discuss the location of D.C, within that you have the location of certain communities, and another sub group within that lies families within that community. Where are the grocery stores located? Who is able to afford the groceries? In which community do we have the most gardens? In my Community Gardens post I discussed the Fort Dupont community garden that is located on the grounds of National Park Services, so they have the option of tending to the land if they sense it being neglected. Race is the largest factor because the majority of people living in the S.E quadrant of Washington, D.C identify as African- American. And within our community we only have three grocery store, where a bus ride away on the other side of town you have 12 grocery stores in one small community.
The focus of my blog was easy to maintain than I initially thought. My biggest concern was the blog itself; I am not big on social websites. I do not own a Facebook, twitter, or any blog. The world of social websites use to bother me because I never realized the connection between the person and the website. I hate to admit it, but after the first blog post I felt addicted. My blog was MY blog. It came up in random discussions with my mother and with friends. I see my blog, Death To DC’s Food Deserts as an extension of my thoughts and feelings about my city. This was the first time I incorporated a social website in a college course and I really enjoyed it. I have plans to continue my blog after graduation.