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Fw: Chicago Neighbors Plot A Way to Healthier Food

  • Subject: [cg] Fw: Chicago Neighbors Plot A Way to Healthier Food
  • From: Betsy Johnson betsy@bostonnatural.org
  • Date: Thu, 15 Aug 2002 07:45:19 -0400

Subject: Chicago Neighbors Plot A Way to Healthier Food

> The Washington Post
> August 14, 2002
> Chicago Neighbors Plot A Way to Healthier Food
> With Produce Scarce, Residents Grow Their Own
> By Robert E. Pierre
> CHICAGO -- The burger places, fried chicken joints and corner-store
> carryouts in LaDonna Redmond's West Side neighborhood are daily, visible
> signs of the high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease that plague
> her community.
> "We have everything in terms of fast food, Taco Bell, Church's, White
> Castle," said Redmond as she drove along row after row of franchises. "But
> you can't get a fresh tomato, at least not one you would want to eat."
> Complaints about poor-quality food and being gouged at midsize groceries
> and convenience stores resounds here and across the nation in inner-city
> communities that have watched major grocery chains leave for more affluent
> areas. But Redmond and her husband, Tracey, aren't just complaining.
> On three vacant lots behind their home, the Redmonds have installed two
> dozen raised garden plots to grow tomatoes, peppers and greens. In a place
> once overgrown with weeds, and littered with broken concrete and trash,
> they have created an inviting place where neighbors gather.
> "You're planting those tomatoes too deep," said one who stopped by to
> In addition to the garden, the Redmonds have started a Saturday farmers
> market, where farmers sell fresh, organically grown fruits and vegetables.
> And as a way to broaden access, they won government approval to accept
> electronic food stamp cards.
> "It's one of the first farmers markets available in low-income
> neighborhoods that sells the yuppie chow that you tend to associate with
> wealthier neighborhoods," said Michael Marcus, a senior program officer at
> the Chicago Community Trust, which has provided $205,000 to the project.
> "What LaDonna has decided is that poor people deserve a shot at the same
> kind of food. This is a real breakthrough."
> The farmers market, and the gardening project, are part of an improvement
> plan for Chicago's Austin community that envisions a year-round community
> grocery cooperative that would sell fresh meats and vegetables and offer
> cooking classes.
> Others have taken notice. The Chicago Community Trust and the W.K. Kellogg
> Foundation have provided nearly $1 million in grants to the Chicago
> Community Food Security Roundtable, which is backing the Redmonds' plans.
> The goal is to promote healthy living, move food production closer to the
> people who use it and transform urban decay into an economic development
> All over the country there are new urban farming projects raising fish,
> growing fruits and vegetables, and turning trash into compost in public
> housing projects, rooftop gardens and school greenhouses. It's about more
> than food. In cities like Chicago, with tens of thousands of vacant lots,
> community gardening projects are also a way to reclaim property that had
> become a symbol of years, and sometimes decades, of neglect -- and they
> could be potential moneymakers.
> "Urban agriculture is an emerging trend in this area and across the
> nation," said Rhonda Hardy, who promotes community and economic
> at the University of Illinois Extension. "There are so many vacant lots in
> the city and all these people standing around with no jobs. We see this as
> a way to help the community grow."
> In Buffalo, a New Jersey-based company sold more than 7 million pounds of
> tomatoes grown on 35 acres of a former industrial site using hydroponics
> and greenhouses. In the Redmonds' case, they have decided to grow
> organically, hoping to tap into the fast-growing industry that in 2001
> in an estimated $9 billion.
> With 114,000 residents, the Austin neighborhood is Chicago's largest. It
> has one full-service grocery store and several smaller grocery and
> convenience stores. Their offerings leave much to be desired, many
> residents say. Studies show that Austin residents last year spent $134
> million on groceries, but only $34 million in their own neighborhood. And
> like most communities in the nation, what they did buy didn't come from
> "A tremendous amount of produce comes from over 1,000 miles away," said
> Bill Shoemaker, senior research specialist in food crops at the University
> of Illinois. "This product is 7 to 10 days old. Whether it looks nice or
> not, there are some nutritional factors that have deteriorated. This is a
> way to change that."
> The Redmonds are all about change: Under a city program, they have
> several vacant lots and begun planting vegetables and greens on their
> site, just behind their home. They're getting technical assistance from a
> consortium of universities headed by Loyola University.
> "The food that people have easy access to does not seem to be very
> healthy," said Chicago State University geography professor Danny Block,
> who is studying the variety and density of grocery stores and restaurants
> in the Austin neighborhood compared with the rest of the city. "We're
> looking at how the distribution of groceries changes as the community
> became poorer and more African American, and also a survey of residents
> about food buying habits. How often they shop. What they buy. Where they
> buy it."
> This information is important to decisions about where to locate a
> community cooperative, and to provide data for policymakers who might be
> interested in correcting any inequities that are uncovered, Block said.
> But while the academic work continues, the Redmonds are focusing on
> becoming farmers. There has been lots of sweat already, making compost,
> building the raised plots, getting advice from farmers and receiving tips
> from neighbors who -- recalling their rural roots -- have an idea about
> way things ought to be done.
> "This project is a little late in planning," said Eloise Harvey, 73, as
> watched from her porch next door as the project got underway. "Should have
> been in the ground three months ago."
> Still, she's happy to see something done. The activity on the lot makes
> drug dealers in the neighborhood nervous with people hanging around all
> time. And it gives at least a few people in the community a chance to earn
> some money.
> "Anything to make the neighborhood better," said Harvey, who moved to the
> neighborhood in 1965. "When I moved into the neighborhood it was nice and
> peaceful. No gangs. No drugs." But that changed over the years,
> particularly during the height of the crack epidemic, when there were gang
> killings on a regular basis.
> "It's still rough in this neighborhood," she said. "It's so bad that most
> people don't even call the police."
> And while there are plants next door, a compost pile going, and people
> regularly out with garden utensils, it is difficult to forget it's in an
> urban setting. Commuter trains roll noisily by on nearby raised train
> tracks, and planes fly overhead regularly.
> Still, for Tracey Redmond, it's a place to find peace. For 16 years, he
> a senior commodity trader at Lind-Waldock. He wore a suit and shaved
> everyday. Now, he wears overalls and a beard.
> "The job was making me sick," he said. So he quit and now he's a "farmer,"
> wearing overalls and spending his day tending his plants and supervising
> the neighbors who have signed on to work with him. Both he has his wife
> think they're onto something.
> Food has been nearly an obsession in the Redmond house since their son,
> Wade, was born four years ago. He had severe food allergies, forcing his
> parents to become quasi-experts on nutrition: where food comes from, the
> chemicals used to grow it, the best places to find fresh and organic food
> at a reasonable price.
> They have turned that knowledge into a full-time job that they hope will
> change their community for the better. Both are clear about what they
> want to be.
> "We're not trying to do social service," said LaDonna Redmond. "Some
> [organizations] continue to perpetuate the stereotype that everyone is
> a single-parent home. They look at this community as a place that has a
> of deficits. We want to build on community assets."
>  2002 The Washington Post Company

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