Creating a Food Oasis

We recently worked with the African Alliance to fund a 2014 project that will put African vegetables in a pilot group of Providence markets. The new vegetables will be coupled with cooking demonstrations and family oriented events – impacting neighbors with food and nutrition education coupled with, as Wendell Berry would say, the pleasures of eating.

This CNN report catches the spirit of the project’s intention, as well as hits at some of the dilemmas of current food advocacy in socially disadvantaged neighborhoods (which focuses too much on defining the problem rather than developing solutions).

From the report:

What we need is a Food Oasis Movement.

There is an untapped demand for fresh fruits and vegetables. Unlocking the demand requires understanding that food access is about relationships, not transactions. Also, price matters.

Families won’t respond to the food police nagging them to eat their veggies. Outsiders dropping off a pallet of free food won’t cut it.

Families will respond positively to cooking classes with their friends, celebrations of family kitchen traditions and high-quality produce distributed through trusted sources.

Philadelphia grocer Jeff Brown has opened supermarkets in neighborhoods written off as food deserts. He hires from the neighborhood, adds specialty items the neighbors like and puts health clinics and community meeting rooms inside his stores. His stores make money.

Food Oasis innovators focus on what they can do, not what they can’t.