Food Access Solutions: Panel Discussion in Anacostia

On Friday, April 12th, Food Access Solutions: Urban Agriculture, Local Food, & Community Development, a panel discussion between leaders in the food movement on a regional level and leaders on the local level took place in southeast Washington D.C. in Anacostia. My interest in Urban Agriculture comes from my desire to integrate schools and students with the urban ag movement, but within the specific process comes issues of food access, food security, job promotion, economic and community development. These were all issues that the panels addressed with exciting stories from the trenches of urban agriculture programs and new ideas. In the end, what I took away was a sense that the food movement is maturing with the scope of ideas that are now being talked about consistently and without hesitation. Ideas like partnering with local chefs and restaurants, expanding the number of concentration of farm stands and markets and focusing on community empowerment from the inside and putting the power, leadership and responsibility for urban food production into the hands of those that are affected.

Food access was the topic of discussion and organizers decided to have the event in what is considered a current “food desert” in Washington D.C. to illustrate the need for discussion about food access. Alexandra Ashbrook of DC Hunger Solutions stated that in the richest part of DC there is a full service supermarket for every 7,000 residents, while in Ward 8 where the discussion was held, there was one full service “Giant” supermarket that serves all 70,000 residents of Ward 8. Last month at the DC Healthy Schools Act hearing, I listened to Marion Barry, the city councilman from Ward 8 discuss the closing down of the Ward 8 Farmer’s Market limiting access to healthy foods even further.

The first panel consisted of the following speakers:
• Robert Egger (DC Central Kitchen)
• Michael Heller (Clagett Farm)
• Carolina Valencia (Social Compact)
• Malik Yakini (Detroit Black Community Food Security Network)
• Maurice Smalls (City Fresh, Cleveland, OH)

Much of the discussion focused on issues of race and power, not only within the communities that the panelists served, but within the food movement itself. Malik Yakini, currently working in Detroit for the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network posed some challenging questions to the audience. He is operating within the context of Detroit, what he claims is the most segregated city in the nation. He said, white supremacy exists within our food system, but it also exists in the food justice and food security movement. He talked about looking at the organizations associated with the food movement and seeing most of the leadership being well-intentioned young, white individuals, mostly women. His organization is attempting to place blacks in those leadership roles. He posed an honest question to the audience, “How can we shift the power from those that currently have it, to those that should have it?” Read More >