Earlier this month, members of the Green For All Fellowship program wowed a standing-room only crowd at the 2011 Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference in Washington DC. One of those fellows, Zoe Hollomon, from the Massachusetts Avenue Project, spoke movingly about her efforts to bring affordable, nutritious food to Buffalo.
It was an important presentation, especially in light of the food crisis developing around the world. As The Economist and others have highlighted, prices have skyrocketed, causing havoc in markets and countries across the globe. Here at home, food prices will jump between 3% and 4% this year according to the U.S. Agriculture Department’s forecast.
These developments have a devastating impact, particularly on low-income communities. Parents, who are already struggling, are wondering if they’ll ever be able to afford quality, healthy food for their children. Yes they can if Zoe Hollomon has her way.
Zoe is having an enormous impact on her community. It is an important story, and I’m glad that she has agreed to share it with the National Geographic readers:
Most people don’t understand how Food Justice and Food Security relate to Social Justice and Environmental Justice. I’d like to tell you a story to about a family from my community which I hope will shed some light on these critical issues and their interconnections.
“Kimmy is a single mom living in extreme poverty with her three small children on the west side of Buffalo. She works two jobs just to pay for the basics and to keep her family afloat.
Everyday after school her three children play outside until she gets home; she quickly cooks dinner for them and the next door neighbor’s two kids in exchange for her kids’ evening care while she goes to her night job. Each week she tries to go to the grocery store but must take two buses and her small children with her as well as a small cart for her groceries. The trip usually takes about four hours and she can only get what she can carry in her cart.
Most weeks, because of her busy work schedule, she must get food from the corner store, which is mainly Mac-n-Cheese, microwave dinners, packaged noodles or canned foods. Otherwise her choices are one of the five fast food restaurants in her neighborhood. She knows the options aren’t good but they allow her to get by, given her hectic schedule. Her kids usually come home from school hungry and go to the corner store for chips and soda since they are cheap and readily available.”
This is the story of millions of people in low-income neighborhoods across the nation. Food security, or the availability of fresh, healthy and culturally appropriate food, is commonly perceived only as an issue in countries overrun with civil war or facing extreme poverty.
It is however, a fact of life and a major health and economic issue for many Americans living in low-income communities. In Buffalo alone, over two-thirds of low-income communities are “food deserts”, meaning that there are none or too few healthy food options that meet basic nutritional needs. In my community the ratio of corner stores that don’t offer healthy food versus stores that do is an outstanding 18:1!
What’s more, the industrialized food complex, producing the bulk of the food available for consumption is also having devastating effects on the environment and our health. Globally, the food sector is the number one contributor of carbon emissions, heating our atmosphere to levels that are unfit to sustain life on earth.
Organizations like Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) in Buffalo and others across the country are taking these issues head on, creating innovative solutions like Aquaponics, Urban Composting, and Mobile Farmers Markets. They are connecting farmers and school districts, as well as identifying policy changes that will make food production more equitable and sustainable.
I am deeply inspired by the young people I am currently working with and those who have come before us and fought against giant odds to put people and planet over greed and profit.
For my term of service as a Green For All Academy Fellow Candidate, I am bringing together local and national organizations to integrate the pressing issues of food justice and food security into the environmental and social justice movements. We cannot put the health of people and planet and the health of the economy on opposite ends of the scale.
Zoe Hollomon and the Green For All Fellows have shown an incredible commitment to service, community and building a sustainable future. That’s why so many people left their panel at the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference feeling energized and hopeful.
That energy, that innovation, inspires and guides our work on a daily basis. We are proud to be able to share it – and we look forward to seeing what develops over the year to come.