January 21, 2010

The Accessible Luxury of Fruits + Vegetables: the Urban Food Revolution.

Like a good eco-citizen, I’ve been staying up on the Whole Foods Boycott debate, and can’t help but think how lucky (or privileged) we are to be able to have this discussion.  No one talks about the idea that having a grocery store at all is a “luxury,” because, well, it shouldn’t be.

Yet in the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco (over 30,000 people living within 50 city blocks- one of the lowest income communities in the city) there isn’t a single grocery store, let alone multiple healthy food options. The residents of the Tenderloin are raising their voices (over 89% said they would actively support a grocery store if there were one), and thanks to the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC), their desire for information about nutrition and healthy grocery options in their urban community is being heard.

Since 1981, the TNDC has been an advocate for the Tenderloin’s poorest residents, providing not only affordable housing for nearly 3,000 tenants in more than 30 building, but also FREE after-school care, community organizing programs, and on-site social workers. And now TNDC is helping low income families in the Tenderloin to grow their own food, with a variety of community gardens on many of their building’s rooftops, and more gardens on the way.

While no grocery store is in the plans yet, this exciting project is the beginning of an urban food revolution that combines education on growing one’s own fruits and vegetables with access to community gardens for low-income families who need help the most.  TNDC will also be launching a peer education program, where residents will be paid to teach others how to cook with limited ingredients, cooking utensils, and kitchen space.

After getting homeless people off the streets and into affordable housing, fighting hunger is one of TNDC’s biggest priorities. Over half the residents of the Tenderloin, most with incomes of lest than $1000 per month, regularly rely on soup kitchens for their meals. TNDC works directly with the San Francisco Food Bank to provide over 500,000 pounds of food a year (approx. 7,500 meals per week) to struggling families through their weekly food pantries. At the free Tenderloin After-School Program, children and youth living in the Tenderloin neighborhood are provided with a healthy and safe place to have fun after school and participate in  arts and crafts, bike rides, camping trips and outings to parks.  Academic assistance is also a strong focus at TASP and students receive homework tutoring, leadership training, and college preparatory work, helping them make college a realistic goal.

I applaud Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation for engaging the community in a dialogue about healthy living at every income level. Why should eating fruits and vegetables be a luxury? Why does a bunch of carrots cost more than a package of Twinkies? (Michael Pollan, NY Times) I encourage you to join the discussion, and help to spread the word about TNDC and other non-profit community organizations that are paving the way for a democratized urban food revolution. I love TNDC’s unofficial tagline, “Opportunity can’t knock if you don’t have a door,” and likewise, healthy food can’t be eaten if you don’t have the land to grow it on, or the grocery store to buy it at!  Watch this beautiful video about the amazing work TNDC does, and if you want to help them change the way the world eats, become a donor and support TNDC’s many programs.  For more information or to schedule a tour of TNDC’s properties and programs, please contact my friend Stacy Kellogg, Fund Development Associate, at (415) 358-3907, or [email protected].

Rachel Znerold is an artist and independent fashion designer living the good life in San Francisco, CA. www.rachelzart.com

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