'Something green is growing here'
Talia Whyte | 9/2/2009, 6:53 a.m.
In Dorchester, residents of color take urban farming to new heights
According to the old medical adage, you are what you eat. But what if where you live determines what’s on the menu?
Dorchester resident Vernell Jordan was not satisfied with the food choices she had in her neighborhood, so she decided to take matters into her own hands.
Jordan, an avid gardener, started growing an assortment of colorful, organic vegetables on a small patch of land outside of Dudley Square last year. The land is owned by the Food Project, a Lincoln, Mass.-based nonprofit focused on sustainable agriculture.
“I have always had a love of plants and an appreciation of nature,” she said. “Growing my own food is supporting sustainability for myself and the environment.”
The circumstances that led Jordan to indulge her green thumb may offer some insight into a larger problem in urban communities. In June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a study of the nation’s “food deserts” — areas where communities lack access to supermarkets and other sources of affordable, nutritious foods necessary for maintaining a healthy diet.
According to the report, 2.3 million Americans live more than 1 mile from a supermarket and do not have access to a vehicle. The report also notes that minorities and lower-income families are often affected, as “urban core areas with limited food access are characterized by higher levels of racial segregation and greater income inequality.”
The financial impact of the disparity in food access in these communities has been highlighted in recent weeks as the debate over health care reform has raged.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in July that the medical cost of obesity in the United States has reached $147 billion per year, a finding that spurred the CDC to issue its first set of comprehensive recommendations aimed at reducing obesity rates. Approximately 70 percent of all Americans are considered either overweight or obese, but African Americans are disproportionately affected by weight problems and related diseases like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.
Here in Boston, there have been a number of efforts launched to address the issue. Kathy Cunningham, a registered dietician with the Boston Public Health Commission, runs the blog Healthy Food on a Budget. The Web site (http://healthyfoodonabudget.wordpress.com) provides nutritional advice for Bostonians with limited incomes and busy lives. She said that making better lifestyle choices is key to dealing with many health problems in the community.
“For the first time this year, not only is there a farmers market selling locally grown, fresh foods every day in almost every section of the city, but the city also started up the Boston Bounty Bucks Program, which allows low-income residents to use vouchers at 14 of these markets and double the value of their food stamps,” Cunningham said. “The city recognizes this lack of healthy foods in communities of color, and we are working on dealing with it.”
While Vernell Jordan supports the idea behind farmers markets, she expounded on the health, economic and environmental benefits of residents growing their own food. Jordan grows 10 different vegetables on her space outside Dudley Square.