This week, the group worked together on a Food Scan activity that looked into relative cost and accessibility of fresh produce in grocery stores and food retailers spanning over various communities within the city. Working in small groups we created recipes that consisted mainly of locally grown, in season produce. Our first stop was at Whole Foods, a gigantic grocery chain located in the Garden District, which is considered a relatively wealthy neighbourhood. This grocery store was well stocked and brightly lit. There was a wide assortment of fresh produce and other supplies that were either locally sourced or brought in from around the country and the world. Not only were we all able to find all of our ingredients at this store but we were also able to find a wide variety of brands, types, and price ranges of these products. We then travelled across the city to a local grocer, New Orleans City Co-op. Despite the fact that this Co-op was difficult to find, as it was located in the back of another store, it seemed to be more community oriented. At this store we were able to find most of our desired ingredients. Finally, we travelled to the Lower 9th Ward, a lower income area that was greatly impacted by the hurricane. We stopped at three corner stores throughout the Lower 9t. We noticed similarities amongst these three locations that were not apparent either at Whole Foods or at the Co-op. For example, there was a general lack of fresh produce (at one store there were only three apples and two of them were rotting) that was replaced by canned, prepackaged food. Most of the food on the shelves were neither fresh nor nutritious. There was much less selection event amongst the canned goods. The corner stores were less visually welcoming and were not lit as well as the grocery stores in the higher socioeconomic neighbourhoods.
The Food Scan provided a concrete example of what food deserts and food inaccessibility look like. Not having access to healthy, fresh produce is a very big reality for a large percentage of the New Orleans population. Having access to healthy food is a human right, not a privilege. Unfortunately this basic right is often not observed here or elsewhere in the United States, Canada, or the world. Fortunately, there are countrywide movements to teach young children the importance of healthy eating and provide them with the means to do so.
Throughout this trip we have looked and worked at various urban agriculture organizations around NOLA; on Wednesday afternoon, we had the opportunity to tour a charter school that directly integrates an urban agriculture project into its curriculum. Edible Schoolyards is a movement that works to balance education with experiential learning and is present at Samuel J. Green Charter School. The staff work with K-8th grade students.They do not focus solely on the gardening component; they are also equipped with a user friendly kitchen space to instill within children the value of preparing nutritious meals.
The implementation and growth of the Edible Schoolyard program over the past nine years is a prime example of the post tramatic growth that can be seen after a disaster such as Katrina. Pre-Katrina, the neighbourhood surrounding Samuel J. Green was shady and undesirable. Edible Schoolyard brings positive growth back to the community and continually works to foster a sense of pride for the residents as well as the students. While there are definite problems and questions that arise with the implementation of the charter school system, the presence of Samuel J. Green provides not only book smarts but also valuable life skills to the students.
One of the most important things that can be taken away from our activity on Wednesday is that the relationship between human beings and food needs to change. Urban agriculture organizations and school programs such as Edible Schoolyard are small steps that can eventually lead to giant leaps of progress in the way we view food. Healthy, fresh food is sacred and helps to keep our bodies going so that we can keep up with the fast paced nature of our society. Next time you consume a shiny apple or a garden fresh salad, reflect on the fact that not everyone in the world has that basic right. What will you do to change that?