Healthy Food & Neighborhoods

Good Food and Space to Play

Access to food is one essential of any healthy neighborhood but too many urban areas today are food deserts – communities where many people live more than a mile from the nearest source of fresh, affordable food. That’s why we’ve invested in the Mariposa Food Co-op, helping to finance a new facility that will open this year and bring fresh, affordable food to a low-income section of West Philadelphia. This new 2,500 square foot food co-op will also create 8 to 9 new full time jobs and vastly expand the selection of fresh, local food available to area residents.

In Los Angeles we helped launch a campaign to draw attention to the city’s food deserts, taking reporters on a bus tour of neighborhoods, such as East LA, that lack supermarkets or any place to buy fresh food. Now the city is beginning to make progress, using federal stimulus funds to help convenience stores start carrying healthier foods and offering incentives for grocers, restaurants and produce marts to invest in South Los Angeles. While much remains to be done, awareness and commitment to ensure that all communities have access to healthy food are growing.

Another way we approach food is by talking about it in the halls of power. For the past two years, we’ve hosted a Food & Justice Seder at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to highlight the work that must be done to make sure that everyone has access to healthy food, and to ensure that our food is produced ethically, using sustainable methods, and that all food workers are treated fairly.

Parks and other green spaces are also important to healthy communities. Children especially need safe, open places to run around and play, but people of any age benefit from clean, safe parks. Community gardens are also important contributions to open space in urban areas. Participants in Bend the Arc Service Learning trips help build community gardens, which provide healthy food in urban communities, while also serving as community gathering places and introducing children and adults to the joys of gardening – a healthy activity in and of itself.

Aneta Bujno’s Service Learning trip to New Orleans opened her up to a world of possibilities back home in Brooklyn. 

“Stimulated by my experience in New Orleans,” she said, “I sought volunteer opportunities in New York City. I am particularly interested in sustainable agriculture in urban environments.”

That interest led Aneta to Bushwick – a former middle class Jewish neighborhood that went on to become one of the poorest, most violence-plagued communities in the nation. Today long-time residents who stuck it out in the worst of times are in danger of being pushed out by gentrification, as has happened in much of the surrounding area. But the strong community of Bushwick City Farm offers a better, more hopeful vision for the neighborhood’s future.  In addition to chickens, crops and compost, the farm is a powerful hub of community self-determination.

“The farm is run by Masha and Vinny, two volunteers that make the place feel like the neighborhood hot spot,” Aneta explains. “The farm was built from the ground up on an abandoned lot. All materials were found on the streets of Brooklyn. The design was determined by regular folks from the neighborhood.

“The volunteers create a friendship that’s strengthened by the common goal: sustainable agriculture in urban environments. Each week the farm distributes free clothes and vegetables for the community on a need-basis. They offer free educational workshops on farming, poultry care, and composting for all ages, as well as free ESL classes.

“On Sundays the community gathers from 12:30 till sundown. As I stand behind the chicken coop made from entirely found wood, I find comfort in knowing such a place exists. The surrealism of it all includes my Sunday activities: feeding the chickens, building the second chicken coop and turning the compost pile. The rooster struts his stuff. The duck quacks to announce his presence. Only when I hear the rush of the J Train making its way through Brooklyn do I realize the extraordinary importance of this creation.”

Another recent Service Learning trip took a group of college students from Montreal to Los Angeles, where they worked with Union Rescue Mission and LA Community Action Network helping provide for homeless members of the community and with TreePeople, planting trees in a public park.

While they’re making a real difference in the lives of the homeless, and greening LA’s urban neighborhoods, these young Jews are also learning to pursue justice as a core expression of their identity. We send them home with a passion to keep working for the common good in their own communities.