Sunday, March 31, 2013

Community and Food

I've been thinking about food and politics lately and who can really help it - election year, politics and living in this town, go together like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  As of 2010, DC has 36 community gardens and according to the Neighborhood Farm Initiative's database, that number has risen to: (insert number when Jill sends this to me).  Mayor Vincent Grey announced a "Sustainable DC" initiative in 2011, that would focus on improving various environmental issues in our area within "one generation", 20 years.  One of the Mayor's goals is: to increase the percentage of food consumed by DC residents, to be produced within a 100 mile radius to 25% by 2015.   A report was supposed to be released spring 2012 by the DC government to outline their goals to reach their goals, based upon the meetings they held with community members and groups since announcing the initiative.  

However, to date, a report has not been released.  In fact, there are several examples of there being more talk, than action.  Last spring, there was a call by the DC government's green initiative for proposals to fund efforts to increase local food production.  What is the status on that?  *birds chirping*  Further, if you visit the Department of Parks and Recreation, you'll find information on programs and services they offer to create community gardens; their website reads, "The DPR Community Gardens Program seeks to give DC residents the skills and opportunities to develop urban gardens in their area". I searched for a link to such programs and I could not find a single one.  

I am particularly troubled by DPR's use of words such as, "to give skills and opportunities" because while my friend and I began our efforts in starting a community garden in the Edgewood neighborhood earlier this year, we were not given much support.  In fact, when we submitted out application to DPR for a permit to install a community garden, it was rejected.  Our goal in starting this was to insert access to locally grown and organic vegetables and fruits to the Edgewood neighbors for free.   When we submitted our application, the area was considered a food desert.  Based upon the Mayor's initiative to increase local food production and DPR's mission to provide skills to develop such opportunities, it was surprising that we received an immediate rejection.  However, after some nifty letter writing to DC government officials, we were able to move forward.  

My point in calling out DPR is not to belittle their own pressures they experience every day.  My point is, when we received our rejection, we did not receive any suggestions in how to resolve the reason why we were rejected: water access.  If we were given support and assistance in that moment, we would not have lost time in planning for the community garden - its programs, engaging the community.  And most of all, if there was a a clear step-by-step guide on the paperwork needed for a permit to begin an urban farm/community garden and a liaison between those interested in starting these gardens and the Mayor's office and DPR to answer any questions or concerns, so we may submit a successful application and decrease the administrative time spent on resolving any issues found.  Also, it would behoove the Mayor's office to provide a resource center that provided funding options and gardening, networking with area community gardeners, etc. in order to achieve one of the DC FEED Act's goals, "to improve access to healthy foods in low-income neighborhoods".

I'm grateful that there are written and approved policies in support of increasing access to locally produced produce, but the support system needs to be put in place to make this a reality in the time period the Mayor has established - 2015.  That's 2 years away.  

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