June 17, 2009

Meeting local needs in a movement for global change

Brent Kim

Brent Kim

Project Officer, Food Production & Public Health

Center for a Livable Future

In addressing far-reaching global issues like public health, nutrition, social justice and the environment, the road to creating positive change in these areas often begins in our own neighborhood.

Baltimore City, home to the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and the School of Public Health, suffers from stark disparities in access to healthy foods.  A 2008 study found predominantly black and low-income neighborhoods offered significantly fewer options for healthy foods than their predominantly white and higher-income counterparts.  This phenomenon is not unique to our city, and the downstream effects to conditions like obesity and diabetes are all too familiar among low-income and minority neighborhoods across the nation.

There is, in the eyes of some, a touch of irony in the proximity between the country’s premier school of public health and some of the most severe nutritional and health disparities.  A converse perspective, however, highlights an opportunity – and a responsibility – to bring the school’s ample faculty of mind, energy and capital to bear upon these concerns.  A strong company of faculty, staff and students, working alongside community leaders, businesses and laypersons, has been continually engaged in a concerted movement to meet the nutritional and health needs of a city that hungers for genuine sustenance.

The Center’s role in this movement is multifaceted, encompassing research, technical assistance, outreach, advocacy, community-building and other forms of support.  Included among these works is the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project at the School of Public Health, now underway for the third season since it’s inception in 2007.  In partnership with nearby One Straw Farm, we provide a conduit for Hopkins students, faculty and staff to pick-up fresh, organic produce, delivered in weekly bulk shares.

The CSA (recently covered in the Baltimore Sun) offers numerous environmental, health and socioeconomic benefits, including supporting local, sustainable agriculture and offering fresh, healthy produce to its members without the risks associated with chemical pesticides.  More importantly, in the context of the Baltimore community, is the flow of healthy foods into local neighborhoods.  For every ten shares of produce sold to CSA members (we currently have over 70 members), One Straw Farm donates a share to support community food access.  Together with additional shares donated by CLF, the produce – which in total amounts to a hefty half-dozen large crates – is delivered to a nearby outreach center that offers meals to the homeless and nutrition classes.

The CSA project is one facet in a number of CLF programs that address community food security, many of which provide more direct access to healthy foods through CSA projects based out of community centers and local churches in high-risk neighborhoods.  These and other local initiatives illustrate the importance of seeking out opportunities for positive change within the local environment, even while working to address broader global issues.

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