: Food deserts in nyc
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Black and brown communities in Brooklyn face an inordinate concentration of food deserts, where people lack access to healthy, affordable grocery stores food deserts in nyc other nutritious options. And the number of Americans who experience food insecurity is only expected to grow in the coming months, with low-income people of color to be hit hardest.
At the same time, the movement for racial justice sparked by the murder of George Floyd, dovetailing with Covid-19, has brought helpful attention to food justice, and there’s been a renewed impetus for what is often referred to as “food sovereignty.” Achieving food sovereignty looks like a community with a right and ability to control its own food and agriculture systems. That community has the power to install sustainable, healthy and culturally appropriate methods through every step of its food production and distribution process.
In Brooklyn, the growing food sovereignty movement isn’t monolithic, but is expressed through a variety of individuals, grassroots organizations and delivery models. These organizations are raising thousands of dollars to feed Black families, hauling organic waste and transforming it into compost, opening farm stands staffed by elementary schoolers, and changing the way we think and talk about food justice.
Perhaps reframing the label “food desert” is one of the first places to start. Karen Washington, a food justice advocate and Black farmer, writes, “The word ‘desert’ [makes] us think of an empty, absolutely desolate food deserts in nyc. But there is so much life, vibrancy, and potential in these communities.” She prefers the term “food apartheid,” believing it’s more important to look at the foundational hierarchies of race, class and geography within the food system.
These areas of food apartheid typically follow racial and socioeconomic lines – in New York City, the spaces are most concentrated in the South Bronx, Harlem and Brooklyn. Those lower-income communities of color have worse health outcomes in part because of food insecurity. When the only affordable options are high-calorie and low-nutrient foods, it’s not surprising food insecure people have higher rates of obesity, higher blood pressure and even developmental delays. Right now, it also means greater spread and more severe cases of Covid-19. Nationally, coronavirus kills Food deserts in nyc people at 2.5 times the rate of white people. The statistics are similar in predominantly Black neighborhoods in Brooklyn – Brownsville has had twice the infection rate of the city as a whole.
Food insecurity will grow by millions because of pandemic fallout, predicts Feeding America, a national network of hundreds of food banks. Low-income people of color will be especially vulnerable, because of the service-industry or hospitality jobs they frequently work. “With so many public-facing services closing indefinitely, these workers are facing particularly dire circumstances,” says Feeding America.
Food apartheid doesn’t emerge randomly. Historians trace its origins food deserts in nyc housing segregation spurred by the process of “redlining.” Beginning in the 1930s in the wake of the New Deal, federal agencies including the Federal Housing Administration and Federal Home Loan Bank Board directed the creation of “residential security maps” of cities across the nation to evaluate potential real estate investments. Racial biases and discrimination were entrenched in the process. The maps were color coded to indicate neighborhoods where investments were deemed “safer” – new, affluent, white suburbs were colored green and given the highest “Type A” rating, while the older, Black neighborhoods closer to the centers of cities were colored red and labeled “Type D,” undesirable for investment. Public and private developers followed the maps for decades, and money flowed into the suburbs and out of cities. White families fled to the suburbs, leaving Black families in urban areas.
Supermarkets followed white flight and proliferated in the suburbs, where there were larger land plots at cheaper prices, attractive regulations, and reportedly less crime. But as the supermarkets closed in cities, urban residents suffered. “African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans living in [low-income urban neighborhoods] travel farther, have fewer choices, and pay more for food than their counterparts,” the ACLU and New York Law School have reported. “When minority families shop locally for groceries they find a grocery store that is 2.5 times smaller than the average grocery store in a higher income neighborhood with higher priced food, less fresh produce, and more processed food.”
The holes left by supermarkets have typically been hastily filled by “food swamps,” areas with an overabundance of unhealthy options, including fast food chains and bodegas. The nutritional consequences of being a low-income person of color are doubled – not only are these groups deprived of healthy foods, but the only affordable options are ones that contribute directly to disease. New York City’s largest food swamp is in East New York, right next to Brownsville. As City Limits details, “there are 27 fast-food chains in its zip code 11207, and another 14 in its [neighboring] zip code area 11208.” And in Brownsville, there is only one supermarket for every 15 bodegas.
For Nancie Katz, executive director of Seeds in the Middle, a non-profit that works to expand food access in Brooklyn, “healthy eating is a civil right. And there has been a systematic deprivation of fresh fruits and vegetables [from] low-income communities.” The signature project of Seeds in the Middle is its Hip2B Healthy Market, a small produce market operated by Brownsville elementary schoolers to provide affordable nutrition to local residents and other students. The young entrepreneurs sell grapes, carrots and other fruits and vegetables for 50 cents a serving. Since schools closed this spring, Seeds in the Middle is working to open ten similar farm stands across central Brooklyn, where they accept EBT and SNAP payment.
To many of those advocating for food sovereignty, the movement fits squarely within the larger framework of the racial justice movement. Sandy Nurse, an activist and candidate for City Council in central Brooklyn, believes that land is the key connection point. “It’s reparations and land. Black people were promised something, and that promise was never given to them. And even when it was given to them, it was taken from them violently.”
Even in 1865, land was seen as so integral to creating a just society, that newly freed slaves advocated for radical land distribution following the Civil War, and were infamously promised 40 acres and a mule. Black land ownership has steadily evaporated since that false promise, and so has much of the ability of Black people to control their own housing, abate gentrification and design healthy systems of food and agriculture. “If we don’t have the land, we can’t protect ourselves, we can’t sustain ourselves,” says Nurse. While land reparations may not be on the immediate horizon, Nurse has been a leader on numerous food justice projects.
Nurse founded BK ROT, the city’s first bike-powered, fossil-free food waste hauling and composting service. The Bushwick based-organization is staffed by young adults, and hauls organic waste from nearby small businesses and households and transforms it into high quality compost. BK ROT is partnered with about 20 businesses, and estimates that it has composted over 300,000 pounds of food waste since opening in 2017, half of which has been donated to local farms. Since the coronavirus pandemic hit Brooklyn, Nurse has been working with local groups to distribute food to households in need. She also teaches at the NYC Farm School, an organization that trains local residents in urban agriculture techniques.
For Raina Kennedy, a food sovereignty organizer with the Brooklyn Movement Center, the key mission of food justice is to reimagine a food system that is locally grounded and locally food deserts in nyc. That way, communities can finally design systems that fit their own needs. “It’s about having more ownership of each part of [the] food chain,” she says. “[It’s] being able to say where the food comes from, where it goes, and being able to [say], no, we don’t want a McDonalds and a KFC and a Taco Bell clustered into this street corner… we want a vegetable market.”
To Raina and others fighting for food sovereignty, the traditional, predominantly white systems of government and private enterprise have repeatedly failed Black and brown people. “I think it’s very clear that we are the ones who will have food deserts in nyc do something, because the government has [said], you’re on your own.” In response to the pandemic, they’ve taken up that mantle – The Central Brooklyn Food Co-Op, which works with the Movement Center, is the only Black-led food deserts in nyc of its kind in New York City. It began in 2013 as a direct effort to expand healthy and affordable food access for low to moderate income Black families. In June, in partnership with other local food justice organizations, it started the #HoldDownBK campaign, aiming to raise $5,000 to provide food for Black Brooklyn families. By the end of the month, the campaign raised over $40,000.
The food sovereignty movement is diverse, both conceptually and in execution. According to Sandy Nurse, overarching it all is a “clear call to action to invest in our food system. In [central Brooklyn] there’s so much interest. There’s such a legacy of farmers, particularly Black farmers, Black women, stewarding land and growing food. It’s not like it’s a random concept,” she reflects. “There is a lot of vision and power around using food as a driver for many different types of change that we need to finally make.”
Food Insecurity in NYC Could Rise by 38 Percent Before 2021, Due to the Pandemic
With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, humankind is facing a plethora of serious problems beyond the prospect of falling ill, from homelessness, to unemployment, to food insecurity. Due to a lack of resources and widespread financial turmoil, food insecurity in New York City has escalated tremendously, and millions of residents are going hungry.
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“What’s happening right now in many ways has been game-changing,” Community Food Advocates Executive Director, Liz Accles told NY Daily News. “So what do we learn from this, and how do we build on this — not just with the next emergency, but how [do we] address the ongoing food needs that people have? You can’t go back to what was. It’s got to be something different.”
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What is food insecurity, and how has it worsened due to the coronavirus?
The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion defines food insecurity as "the disruption of food intake or eating patterns because of lack of money and other resources." Although food insecurity isn't necessarily the direct cause of hunger, per se, starvation is often an outcome. Food insecurity has always been a rampant issue in New York City due to poverty and the pervasiveness of food deserts, and, unfortunately, it's gotten worse with the pandemic.
According to a press release from the New York Mission Society, the number of New York City residents experiencing food insecurity could increase by a shocking 38 percent by the end of 2020, due to the ongoing pandemic. The city has worked to address the problems through food banks and local pantries, but with winter coming in a few months, as well as the rise of unemployment, and an upcoming second wave of COVID-19, the city could see food scarcity comparable to the Great Depression.
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How are we combatting the food insecurity crisis?
The New York City government is currently working to tackle the food insecurity crisis. According to NY Daily News, Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Sanitation Commissioner, Kathryn Garcia, to be the city’s COVID-19 Food Czar, and she's worked on delivering hundreds of thousands of hot meals to New Yorkers. Additionally, at the end of March, organizations such as FoodBankNYC and City Harvest went into overdrive, and worked to distribute millions of meals in only a few months.
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If you'd like to make a difference on your own, you can donate to organizations like The Okra Project, which brings healthy, home-cooked meals to Black trans people in need, while City Meals on Wheels brings hot meals to elderly people in across the five boroughs. If don't have money to spare, NY Common Pantry accepts food donations, In It Together is seeking out volunteers, and you can always locate your nearest community fridge, to supply with refrigerated items like produce.
The food insecurity crisis is a serious issue that isn't bound to improve anytime soon, but if you have time, money, or extra food to donate during these trying times to your New York City neighbors, anything is seriously appreciated.
New York City’s Biggest ‘Food Swamps’
A “food swamp” is an area where unhealthy food, like high-calorie fast food and junk food, is more readily available than healthy food. East New York is the biggest swamp in New York City.
The highest quantity of fast-food chains is not in tourist-central Times Square, not even overcrowded Midtown. Instead, fast-food chains in New York City are most prevalent in the low-income outskirts of Brooklyn.
In just 10 minutes walking down Pennsylvania Avenue in East New York, there are at least 10 different fast-food chains to eat at. All of New York’s best-selling chains line the street –– Burger King, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Popeyes, White Castle. A salty, greasy aroma permeates the air. The street is a sodium hotspot.
A “food swamp” is an area where unhealthy food, like high-calorie fast food and junk food, is more readily available than food deserts in nyc food. East New York is the biggest swamp in New York City. There are 27 fast-food chains in its zip code 11207, and another 14 in its zip code area 11208.
In the $234 billion fast-food industry, McDonalds, Subway, Taco Bell and Burger King were among the most successful chains in America last year. Fast-food chains have grown 14 percent over the last decade in New York City. Brooklyn––the largest increase in the city––is up by over 3 percent just this past year. And according to the Center for an Urban Future, which tracks chains in the city, that growth is likely to continue.
In the 11207 zip code of East New York, there are seven Crown Fried Chicken’s, four McDonald’s and three Subways. The abundance seems arbitrary, but some community members find it hard to resist.
“I want to cut down on eating fast food because I feel so gross after eating it,” says Jazmin Childs, a native East New Yorker. She lives less than 15 minutes away from there Popeyes on Linden Blvd. and eats there at least once a week. As university of north texas football questionnaire why it’s hard to quit the beloved popcorn-chicken joint –– “it’s super convenient,” she says.
“Linden Blvd.” is what East New Yorkers call the fast-food strip in their neighborhood. But most of the chains actually swarm the intersection of Linden Blvd. and Pennsylvania Avenue. The busy traffic-hub also makes Linden Blvd. an ideal street for drivers heading to/from the Belt Parkway – Checkers, Burger King, Wendy’s are all “drive-thru’s”.
Cornell, a manager at the Checkers on Pennsylvania Avenue, said there are fewer walk-ins at the restaurant. Most customers order at the drive-thru because it’s even more convenient.
The term “food swamps” was just introduced a few years ago. Food swamps typically exist in food deserts, which are neighborhoods with limited access to grocery stores and healthy food options. Previously, scientists presumed food deserts were linked to severe health risks, like obesity. But it turned out the existence of food swamps more accurately predicts obesity rates than the existence of food deserts can, according to a study published in December by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
The study was led by Kristen Cooksey-Stowers, a fellow at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. She knew about food deserts, but wanted to look at metrics for other food environments.
“Obesity is a consequence of food swamps,” Cooksey-Stowers says. Her study showed that the obesity rate is higher in areas with four or more unhealthy retailers for every one healthy option.
Those findings match East New York. Thirty-one percent of residents are obese, according to the NYC Health Department, compared to the city’s overall rate of 24 percent. Meanwhile, East New York food deserts in nyc has the highest diabetes rate in New York City at 18 percent, according to the most recent community health survey.
In fact, diabetes is more common in New York City’s fast-food swamps. Adult Type 2 Diabetes is 2.5 times more prevalent in food swamps, while Adult Type 1 Diabetes is 1.5 times higher, compared to areas without fast food, according to a new study published this April in the Journal of the Endocrine Society.
“If you located some of these same [fast-food] restaurants in higher-income areas, they probably would go out of business,” says Dr. David Lee, who conducted the study at the New York University School of Medicine. “Does health behavior drive the demand in a particular region, and [fast-food] restaurants just come in and supply that demand?” he asks.
The disproportionate amount of fast-food chains in low-income residential areas is plain to see. It’s not uncommon to see multiple of the same chain in the same vicinity.
“People of color are exposed to food swamps because these are communities that have been historically disenfranchised,” Cooksey-Stowers says.
Healthy food acess has been a priority for East New York Farms! for 20 years. They operate three urban farms, including a youth farm, one community garden and a farmers market––the only place to find local and organic produce––in the neighborhood. Specialty Caribbean crops like karela, bora, and callaloo are grown in their vicinities.
Every year, 35 young adults from East New York are selected as interns at the farm, and learn about health, nutrition and food justice.
“There are over 60 community gardens in East New York. A lot of that work is already happening,” says Jeremy Teperman, a Youth Farm Manager at East New York Farms!.
“It’s very difficult to change the foodscape,” Teperman says. “A lot of the [interns] come in with snacks that they brought from the bodega.”
But many East New Yorkers care about produce. After all, a majority of the community are immigrants who come from agricultural backgrounds. But the juxtaposition of farms and fast-food is hard to ignore.
“It became a breeding ground for these fast-food chains,” said Council Member Rafael L. Espinal of District 37, which includes East New York, where he grew up. “They know that it’s very likely that they have a higher clientele in those areas.”
Access to healthy food was a key issue during discussions of the East New York Rezoning Plan that passed two years ago. Espinal says those zoning changes will hopefully incentivize developers to build grocery stores and other healthy food outlets through the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health Program (FRESH), which offers tax breaks. A “food manufacturing kitchen incubator” is included in one of the projects the city has approved since the rezoning was passed.
* * * *
A note on the data
Five years ago, Baltimore was one of the first cities to map their own food swamps. At the Bloomberg School of Public Health at John Hopkins University, researchers used ReferenceUSA to do an analysis of fast-food chains and carry-out restaurants. Using ReferenceUSA, City Limits plugged in the 17 most prominent fast-food chains across the five boroughs (not fast-casual restaurants), as listed by the Center for an Urban Future, to determine what zip codes had the highest quantity. The NAICS code “fast-food” does not include pizza palors, Chinese take-out, or coffee shops – which were not included in this study.
Data from ReferenceUSA.
A map of all fast-food chains in Brownsville, East Flatbush, Canarsie and East New York.
CityPlate, City Limits’ series on food policy, is supported by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. City Limits is solely responsible for the content.
Measuring food deserts in New York City's low-income neighborhoods
Most research examining food deserts focuses on identifying alack of healthy food available in disadvantaged neighborhoods byway of supermarkets, fruit and vegetable markets, or specic itemsavailable within existing markets and studies rarely combine ananalysis of both healthy and unhealthy food access opportunities(Beaulac et al., 2009; Walker et al., 2010). Very few researcherscombine healthy and unhealthy sources into one indicator to makestatements about disparities in the balance of healthy andunhealthy foods available (Beaulac et al., 2009; Mari GallagherResearch and Consulting Group, 2006; Walker et al., 2010) and weare not aware of any studies that combine surveys of multipleestablishment types with in-store direct item measurement tocreate such a healthy/unhealthy food desert indicator.
In this study we describe the food environments in low-incomeneighborhoods in New York City where obesity rates are high andcompare these with high-income areas with much lower preva-lence of obesity. We use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) tocount food resources within a street network buffer around Censusblock groups to quantify accessibility to multiple food outlet types.In New York City, as in other urban areas, supermarkets, smallconvenience stores, also known as bodegas, and fast food restau-rants are primary sources of food (Horowitz et al., 2004; Grahamet al., 2006) and are therefore the three establishment types uponwhich we focus. We also use results from an in-store survey ofspecic food items to construct a food desert index that takes intoaccount both healthful and unhealthful food outlets and smallmarkets carrying walmart asurion sign in foods. We then examine differences inour food desert index by race/ethnic and economic composition.
establishment selling food and beverages in North and Central
Brooklyn (also referred to as Brooklyn) and East and CentralHarlem (also referred to as Harlem). Survey areas were chosenbecause they are low-income and largely Black and Hispanicneighborhoods (Demographic Prole, NYC Department of CityPlanning, 2001a, 2001b) and have high levels of prematuremorbidity and mortality. A portion of the Upper East Side wasselected as a comparison area because of its contrasting afuenceand adjacency to Harlem. Surveyors, who included student internemployees and volunteers, participated in a 3-hour trainingprovided by senior researchers who had developed the surveyand researchers from the survey team in Brooklyn, before theHarlem survey was launched. The survey team conducted severalpilot eld visits to the same establishments to insure surveyorscoded items uniformly. Surveyors also traveled in pairs andconsulted with each other to catalog survey items (see below).At each store surveyed (see Gordon et al. (2007) for the pre-liminary analysis) researchers obtained permission to conduct theassessment. In each establishment assessed, researchers deter-mined the type of establishment, the availability, placement, andprice of representative healthy and unhealthy foods as well as thepresence and type of storefront advertisements (food, nonalco-holic beverage, alcohol, or cigarette ads).
The Brooklyn assessment was conducted from August 2004 toOctober 2004 and the Harlem and Upper East Side assessmentswere conducted from June to December in 2005. The Harlemsurvey was very similar to the Brooklyn survey; however, someminor revisions and additions were made based on the Brooklynsurvey experience. Both surveys included a range of representa-
C. Gordon et al. / Health & Place 17 (2011) 696700 697Table 1Block group, demographic and food access characteristics by neighborhood.
Area 1st grade math fact fluency worksheets Population Population/
All block groups (n448)Mean (SD) 0.05 (0.02) 1280 (963) 27,665
0.55 (0.34) 0.33
33rd%b 0.04 865 19,265 0.33 0.11
66th% 0.05 1274 28,992 0.79 0.44
Max 0.20 7386 115,794 1 1
Upper East Side block groups (n39)Mean (SD) 0.04 (0.02) 2377 (1397) 52,976
0.02 (0.03) 0.06
33rd% 0.04 1402 43,127 0.01 0.03
66th% 0.05 2576 61,059 0.02 0.06
Max 0.12 5891 97,123 0.15 0.24
East and Cen
SLOANSVILLE, NY — On a warm August morning in this hamlet in upstate New York, Ashanti Williams and Arian Rivera are breaking ground on a new vegetable plot on their 95-acre farm. Winter is coming, and they need to plant cover crops to prepare the land for new growth next spring.
Williams, 32, and Rivera, 39, owners and operators of the Black Yard Farm Cooperative, grow produce that’s culturally relevant to the neighborhoods they came from in Harlem and the Bronx. That means crops like lima beans, collard greens, callaloo, hot peppers, and different rice varieties. “Food is medicine,” says Williams. And in their communities, two historically underserved areas of New York City with large populations of color, people need the food “that actually helps you heal and grow, as opposed to things that are going to make you sick.”
Their mission—to supply fresh food to people of color and encourage Black farming, food sovereignty, and land ownership—grew out of their personal experiences of food injustice. When they were living in both Harlem and the Bronx, good produce was scarce, and fast food was everywhere. Such bleak foodscapes have allowed for obesity and its related illnesses, like blood pressure, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes, to thrive. In the Bronx, obesity affects nearly 32 percent of the population; in gentrifying Harlem, it affects between 21 percent and 31 percent of adults. The disease pattern holds across the country. Among Black, non-Hispanic Americans over age 20, obesity affects nearly 39 percent of men and 56 percent of women.
Against that backdrop, the Black Yard Farm works closely with the Corbin Hill Food Project, an organization that buys fresh produce from farms in the Northeast and distributes it through low-cost shares in low-income areas of New York City, offering flexible payment and signup schedules to accommodate residents’ needs. New School University professor Dennis Derryck and a group of largely Black and brown co-founders started the organization in 2009 after realizing that the major cause of death in Harlem and the Bronx “really came down to food,” explains Derryck. “Just poor quality of food. It was a health problem.”
Williams and Rivera inspect the yard of Black Yard Farm Cooperative's two pigs, Pedro and Penelope. (Photo: Henry Hung/VICE News)
To source and distribute its produce, Corbin Hill works with farming hubs, aggregators, and packagers that center the wealth-building of low-income communities and people of color. The goal, explains Derryck, is to not only provide these people with fresh food but also establish food sovereignty, “where communities own the decisions, decide what they get, and share in the wealth.”
Lack of access to healthy, affordable food is just one of a vast web of factors driving obesity and related health issues in Black communities. But it’s one where farmers like Williams and Rivera, and the activists and educators who support them, are striving to make an impact. Simply supplying fresh fruits and vegetables, however, is just the first step. Ultimately, all of their efforts are geared toward freeing their communities from the food system that makes them vulnerable in the first place.
Williams and Rivera dead head a group of flowers that they will harvest later to sell to local businesses and farmer’s markets. (Photo: Henry Hung/VICE News)
When Rivera arrived in Harlem in 2007 by way of Philadelphia, he immediately noticed the poor produce—wilted vegetables, spoiled food—in local grocery stores. “I was having trouble finding good food for my kids,” he says. This food injustice moved him to quit his office job at Columbia University, enroll in a two-year farming program, and work at various farms before co-founding Black Yard. Since its launch in October 2020, Black Yard has operated exclusively through fundraising—so far, they’ve raised over $41,000—and the personal savings of Rivera and Williams.
Williams, a Bronx native, experienced the lack of grocery stores and poor-quality produce in the neighborhood firsthand. But her family, with a history of farming in the South, set up local community gardens to offset this dearth. Growing up, she learned urban farming, set up youth farmer’s markets, and eventually raised chickens. “The access to fresh fruits and vegetables is very limited,” she says, “so a big part of my childhood was having that pointed out.”
Picking peppers at Black Yard Farm Cooperative to be sold to local business and farmer’s markets. (Photo: Henry Hung/VICE News)
Food sovereignty is a concept that, as Black farmer and author Leah Penniman once explained, suggests that “If you can feed yourself, you can free yourself.” The best way to overcome an unjust food system, in other words, is to take control of it, replacing the corporate, capitalist food deserts in nyc with one that is community-oriented. Doing so doesn’t just mean better food access. It also blunts the impact of predatory marketing and the chronic stress of living with structural racism.
“It's as much about economic development and empowerment as it food deserts in nyc about public health,” says Craig Willingham, deputy director of CUNY’s Urban Food Policy Institute. “A lot of the energy around this movement is about setting a precedent for who's growing the food, what communities they serve, and the market that dynamic can create.”
In low-income areas, groceries that sell fresh, affordable produce tend to be scarce. The term “food desert” is often used to describe these neighborhoods, but food policy researchers prefer “grocery gap.” There’s plenty of food in these areas; the problem is that most of it is unhealthy. Across the country, fast-food chains have proliferated in minority neighborhoods. Along with a disproportionate number of convenience stores, bodegas, and dollar stores, they offer overworked, low-income people tantalizingly affordable and convenient food options at a steep health cost, contributing to rising obesity. But researchers say obesity is a complex disease involving behavior, physiology, genetics, and cultural factors. Supplying healthy food to people is important, but it’s not going to decrease obesity rates overnight.
“One reason why people store adipose tissue is chronic stress, which can be associated with issues such as racism,” says Harvard obesity medicine physician Fatima Stanford. “Racism is chronic: It's not usually something that happens to a Black person once and then it's done. It’s a lifetime thing.” Stanford and other researchers have shown that high obesity rates among Black people are a consequence of systemic racism, which includes, among a multitude of experiences, poor access to health care, inequitable housing policies, discrimination at work and in public, and harassment by the police.
Williams of Black Yard Farms Cooperative brings over peppers she picked to the crate. (Photo: Henry Hung/VICE News)
Still, for people with low access to healthy, affordable food, distributors and growers like Corbin Hill and the Black Yard Farm can be a lifeline. To achieve food sovereignty, more people of color need to participate in the food system, whether through distribution, land ownership, or farming itself. Farm School NYC, an organization that offers urban agriculture training, teaches students not only to grow food but also to do so in a way that uplifts Black and brown communities.
Opened in 2011, the school grew out of a collective of urban farmers and food activists in New York City who wanted to put their community’s wealth of agricultural knowledge—many of them grew up on farms—to good use. Today it teaches up to 25 courses per year (including “Growing Soils,” “Crop Management,” and “Food Justice”), and most of the students are people of color, says Onika Abraham, the school’s director.
All courses are taught from mexican restaurant downtown san jose perspective of using farming to “build power in the communities that are most impacted by health and wealth disparities,” she says. Rivera was among the first batch of farmers to graduate from Farm School NYC.
Rivera holds an assortment of peppers to be sorted at the barn. (Photo: Henry Hung/VICE News)
But simply teaching people how to grow food, Abraham points out, is not enough. “It’s not going to change access to land or land tenure, and the convoluted reasons why there’s such a dramatic Black land loss for agriculturalists manufactured homes for sale in idaho this country,” she says. Land ownership by Black farmers peaked in the 1910s, when they owned 16 million acres; today, they own fewer than 4.6 million acres. Only about 1 percent of farmers in the United States are Black, and most, lacking the capital and generational wealth to buy property, must farm on leased land.
That’s why, over a decade ago, Derryck and six business partners bought 95 acres of land—the land Williams and Rivera are now cultivating—on behalf of Corbin Hill, using money they had raised privately. “What we agreed to from the very first was that this farm was going to be owned by the community,” he says. Now, they’re in the process of turning over ownership of the land to Black Yard Farm, says Derryck. “This is something that will be permanent.”
Rivera and Williams are, for their part, planning to construct more buildings on the property and convert their barn into animal paddocks for overwintering. Though it's only their first year on the Corbin Hill property, they've already erected a greenhouse and brought a handful of goats and sheep to the farm. There's even talk of getting a guard llama.
And they’re already thinking long-term about educational programming and directly supplying the markets in their communities back in the city. “It’s better that we be out here and represented than continuing to defer to white America, and them feeling bad for the Black and brown folks, writing grants and proposals to feed us,” says Rivera. “We need to feed ourselves.”
This series food deserts in nyc supported by Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University. VICE News retains complete editorial autonomy.
Tagged:Healthfarmingobesityfood desertsBlack Farmerschildhood obesity awareness
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