Category Archives: Karen Washington

Finding Our Way Out of Food Insecurity…

I remember the first time I heard the phrase “food desert”. A friend I work with used it and I remember the image it created in my mind and I wanted to find out more about it. Because I have not experienced this, it was a surprise for me to find out that places exist where people don’t have access to a grocery store, but just small markets or corner stores and much of the food can be packaged or “junk” food. To get to someplace with fresh fruit or vegetables would take traveling a great distance. This was shocking to me. What I learned today is that this isn’t an accurate description. There isn’t a desert – this creates an image of nothing. There are so many people that live in these areas and do not have access to quality food. This is not their doing, but it greatly effects the quality of their lives.

What used to be just an inner city problem of not having access to food is larger than we realize. Packaged “fresh” fruit that I have bought for years, now says the same things it always said with an added little “product of China” printed at the bottom. Fresh fruit / Product of China really doesn’t gel in my mind. It creates a conflict. I am also sick most of the time from food, so this quest has become urgent for me. No dairy, no wheat, minimal corn and soy? I can barely shop at a regular store with this list. So where do I go? It has to be local. But what does local mean?

I thought I had access to food that was good for me (the oranges are from Africa? organic food from China?) and I thought I was not one of the people at risk for eating contaminated food, but that is changing daily across the country as breakout after breakout of illness and death happens because of contaminated food. It isn’t a third world problem, it is a world problem.

Why can’t we have access to quality food? Without pesticides, and without food colorings and chemicals? We can. We ordered our food this month (meat, eggs, cheese, etc.) from the Mass Local Food Coop. All local from local farms. But this creates another conflict for me. Why can’t everyone have this? We are also starting our second growing season of fruit trees, nuts, perennial vegetables and annual beds. We can have local access, but it’s going to take work.

Now I need to act. I am researching the Regional Environmental Council (REC) in Worcester, and their next orientation for volunteers is on May 16th. So that’s a start. They are already doing it – gardening and Farmer’s Markets, reaching out to the community and education. I can find out about volunteering and learn there. I can also support them by shopping at the Farmer’s Markets when they open.  I need to learn more to know where I fit in this process.

Today I went to Worcester State University to hear Karen Washington speak about food insecurity. (Not knowing where your next meal will come from)  She is truly an amazing woman. I first heard her speak at the NOFA conference in January and when I saw that she was returning to Worcester to speak again, I took the day off from work for an adventure. She’s doing it, and has been for years: urban gardening in the Bronx, giving people in those places that are at risk access to fresh fruit and vegetables. Encouraging people to vote for people who care about food issues, educating youth about food, growing food and contributing to her neighborhood.

One of the things that really made an impression on me was that anyone who went to their Farmer’s Market left with food – whether they had money to pay or not. They planted enough to give away to the  people who most needed it.

I have a lot to consider and don’t know how I will be involved. I know where to start:

     Buy local, quality food. Check and recheck labels and where my food is coming from.
     Grow as much food as I possibly can.
     Get involved in what is already working and needs my support.

In the forefront of my mind are the ideas of Permaculture. Setting up a system that is partially annual planting, but the bulk of which will be perennial and not require any work except harvesting, saving seeds, canning and storing.

I keep hearing that the best way to “beat the system” is to know the system and learn how to change it. But, what if the best way to beat the system is to just not need it anymore?

Along with the ideas of needing and requiring less, developing quality relationships and having more adventures in my life, I think the best place to start is just outside my door…