Who’s Invited to the Table?: An Exploration of Food Security, Food Access and Programs Working to Create Food Change
Principle Investigator: Rachel Tomczek
Introduction and Rationale
There has been significant focus surrounding the issues of obesity, food access, food security, hunger and related health issues in recent years through the work of well-known researchers and authors to those less well known. Authors such as Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver, Julie Guthman, Eric Schlosser and others have been published in journal articles, books and produced into movies and documentaries. There has begun to be a change in the way people are talking about these issues and this is where my interest lies. Focus is beginning to shift from analyzing food issues and the supposed obesity ‘epidemic’ to more of a food access, neoliberal and capitalistic view and how these are key issues in food production and consumption.
A newer area that has begun to garner more attention is the farm-to-school and plow-to-plate programs across the country. Farm-to-school programs have been created with the goal to “create viable market opportunities for small- and mid-size family farmers, while bringing more locally grown fresh food to school cafeterias” (Izumi, Wright, Hamm, 2010, 335). While these programs have grown in popularity and continue to gain support, several issues continue to create challenges; such as the timing of the agriculture production cycle and school year, as well as budget constraints and embedded ideas surrounding markets and pricing (Izumi, et al, 335). Price is not merely a concern in established, and growing, programs, but has a significant impact on fruit and vegetable consumption for low-income families. One study showed that in order to meet the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption a low-income family would have to devote “43% to 70% of their food budget to fruits and vegetables” (Cassady, Jetter, Culp, 2007, 1909). This begs the question, “would price reduction make a difference?” Dong and Lin (2009), asked this question in their study of creating a subsidy for low-income Americans to purchase more fruits and vegetables. They discovered that the annual cost of such a subsidy would be about $310 million for fruits and $270 million for vegetables, and despite this subsidy most people would still not be able to meet the Federal dietary recommendations (i). Many studies have shown that “access to healthful foods is most limited among racial and ethnic minorities and low-income populations; these same populations experience the highest rates of obesity and food insecurity” (Freedman & Bell, 2009, 825). In a study conducted by Morland, Wing, Roux and Poole (2001), they looked at “the distribution of food stores and food service places by neighborhood wealth and racial segregation” in Mississippi, North Carolina, Maryland, and Minnesota. Morland, et al (2001), found that large numbers of supermarkets and gas stations with convenience stores are located in wealthier neighborhoods, there are fewer places to purchase alcohol in wealthy neighborhoods compared to poorer ones and there are four times more “supermarkets located in white neighborhoods compared to black neighborhoods”. Through their study they concluded, “without access to supermarkets, which offer a wide variety of foods at lower prices, poor and minority communities may not have equal access to the variety of healthy food choices available to nonminority and wealthy communities” (23). With the pull of the suburbs and city centers, many supermarkets have moved into these communities and with economic downturns, many mom-n-pop mercantiles are unable to survive. This move has contributed to these ‘food deserts’ and the economy has made it even more challenging for people to access food whether they can afford it or not. Freedman (2009), found that food access varies in ways that are designed to appeal to “customers’ race, class, gender or environment” and “local food environments are reflections of social hierarchies” (382). With growing food insecurity and hunger in America many food banks, charity food distribution centers and soup kitchens are growing. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (known as WIC) was created in the 1960’s to support women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, postpartum and have infants or young children with their nutritional needs. A part of this program is the FMNP (Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program) whose purpose is to “provide fresh, nutritious, unprepared foods from farmers’ markets to women, infants and children who are nutritionally at risk and to expand awareness and use of farmers markets by consumers” (quoted in Just & Weninger, 1997, 902). Racine, Vaugh and Laditka (2010), showed that “women who received and redeemed Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program vouchers were much more likely to purchase fruits/vegetables at farmers’ markets” (441, emphasis added). Daponte and Bade (2006), conducted a study of the private food assistance network and supplied several recommendations for how the domestic food safety net could be strengthened – reinstate a purchase requirement, simplify the FSP (food stamp program) eligibility determination, have consistency in eligibility criteria between the TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) and the FSP and fold targeted food assistance programs into the Food Stamp program (685-686).
These studies have shown the significant need for change to happen in markets in order for low-income and minority Americans to have greater access to food. My project will focus on creating a space for greater access to food for such populations, while also providing education about healthy eating habits, soil health and sustainable environments. The significance of this project is in the creation of spaces for people to grow, maintain and nurture community garden, or P-Patch, plots on either local or government donated land with the help of locally established tilth organizations. The value of this project is in focusing in one key area to create and sustain this area with the goal of making a replicable program in further local areas surrounding the Seattle region. This project expands on current programs being conducted by Seattle Tilth and local famers’ markets in Seattle and surrounding areas; it also complements these programs by focusing further on involving children and adolescents in these programs to encourage advocacy and environmental work.
On March 14, 2012, a community meeting will be held at the South Shore K-8 School with the goal of discussing “Making Rainier Beach Great – A Call to Action!” My goal is to be a part of this discussion and be involved from the ground up in the leading and creating of a space that encompasses the neighborhood plan goals of: “a place for everyone, lifelong learning, growing food to develop healthy industry and Rainier Beach is a beautiful, safe place” (from community e-mail from the Rainier Beach Neighborhood Advisory Committee, 2012). The research questions I want to address through this project are as follows:
- In what ways are people excluded from participating in this project? Is this exclusion deliberate or overlooked?
- What actual barriers or perceived barriers exist that would cause someone to not participate in this project (i.e. race, class, socioeconomic status, ways of promoting the program, etc.)
- What is the role of the land in this project?
- How was this space chosen?
- Who owns the land?
- What is the history of this space and what are the layers that compose that history?
- Is this program replicable and in what ways, if any, would it need to be modified to be reproduced?
- Is it possible to create a space that fulfills the goals of the community?
- Has this program accomplished the goals that were established by the committee and in what ways has it been successful or unsuccessful?
- How can this program be utilized by local schools to create a space for children and teens to learn about science, the environment, composting and health?
The project will be conducted in a space in the Rainier Beach neighborhood, specifically along Pritchard Beach located on the shore of Lake Washington. The project involves the work of the Rainier Beach Neighborhood Advisory Committee, Seattle Tilth and Friends of Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands, multiple volunteers and employees of Seattle Tilth. The methods I will use include program evaluation, interviews, autoethnography and possibly political ecology. The interviews will be conducted with program participants/volunteers and committee members to produce answers to the objectives’ questions and gauge success of the program throughout its progression. Upon agreement to participate in the interviews, interviewees will be given a consent form and written explanation of the study’s objectives. Interviews will be conducted in person at the actual site of the project so as to entail least amount of cost to participants and optimize comfort in surroundings. Interviews will primarily occur during ‘field work’ in a side-by-side conversational manner versus face-to-face across a table or in a more formal setting. Interviewees will be given the option of remaining completely anonymous (no identifying markers such as age, race, gender or name) or partially anonymous (first name only, age, race and gender). The autoethnographic portion of the research will be accomplished through self-reflective journaling, in which the principle investigator (myself) will journal reflectively on each day of working on the project and then critically analyze my personal development through this project and knowledge gained. Level of competence in cultural sensitivity is very high due to the diversity of the Rainier Beach neighborhood and the multiple groups of people participating in the project; if there is a need for interpreter services due to language barriers this will be utilized.
Spring 2012: March 14, 2012 – community meeting to gain information and discover the fit between the program and myself; what contributions can I make and how am I able to participate to my fullest potential. I will complete an internship at Jubilee Farm in Carnation, WA, to gain further understanding of biodynamic farming and the functions of a full running CSA and farm.
Summer 2012: I will work extensively with the Rainier Beach Neighborhood and Seattle Tilth project to begin working in the space chosen to create the community garden. During this time I will also begin conducting preliminary interviews and autoethnographic journaling. At this time there would also be collaboration between schools and the Rainier Beach project to utilize this space for education and teaching children and teens in the upcoming school year.
Fall 2012: I envision further work on the community garden space with a focus more on the harvest and preparation for winter. This time would potentially include creation of classes to help provide education surrounding preserving, canning, freezing and storing of produce for winter. Further work would be conducted on the collaboration between schools and the Rainier Beach project to utilize this space for education and teaching children and teens; with the goal of establishing after-school projects for children and teens to participate in.
Winter 2012/2013: Work continues on the project with the focus shifting to maintenance of the space; seeding/planting planning for the upcoming spring; indoor activities conducted in classrooms surrounding health, education about the earth and seasonal cycles.
Spring 2013: Work would continue on the property with established practices, goals, education and collaboration. A system of volunteers would be in place to maintain the space while also continuing to educate new volunteers and workers on the property to the goals and practices of the space. Focus would begin to shift on possibilities for replication of the project and new areas to begin working and focusing on.
Final Product and Dissemination
The intended audience of this project is the Rainier Beach neighborhood primarily; however, I want to include scholars focusing on work to increase food access and food security; advocates for food justice and social/human rights; farmers markets, CSA’s and community garden programs as well. The result of the project would be a fully functioning garden space that encompasses the goals established by the Rainier Beach Neighborhood Advisory Committee: a place for everyone feels welcome and included, lifelong learning is established in surrounding school and at the site itself directly through educational classes and hands-on learning, growing food to develop healthy industry and supply a source of food access to healthy fruits and vegetables and Rainier Beach is a beautiful, safe place. Another result of this project would also be that the lessons learned and practices established would be repeatable, with small modifications, in other locations. Lastly, a greater understanding of space and the many layers of how that is viewed would be gained; the ability to understand how land is chosen for a project and how the past, present and future effects of history impact how the land is used would be profound as to how spaces feed into the discourses of class and power.
I want to have these results established on a community webpage for all to access on the internet and contact with questions and for communities to start programs of their own. I would also like to have these results published through community newsletters and possibly journals focusing on these issues; for example, Agriculture and Human Values or Food Culture and Society. These means are appropriate to the subject matter and the audience because they are meant to be as accessible as possible, for the public eye to see that there is hope and possibilities through community cohesion and working together to accomplish a set of goals.
Cassady, D., Jetter, K. M., & Culp, J. (November 01, 2007). Is Price a Barrier to Eating More
Fruits and Vegetables for Low-Income Families?. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 107, 11, 1909-1915.
Daponte, B., & Bade, S. (January 01, 2006). How the Private Food Assistance Network Evolved:
Interactions between Public and Private Responses to Hunger.Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 35, 4, 668-690.
Dong, D., Lin, B.-H., & United States. (2009). Fruit and vegetable consumption by low-income
Americans: Would a price reduction make a difference?. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
Freedman, D. A. (January 01, 2009). Local Food Environments: They're All Stocked
Differently. American Journal of Community Psychology, 44, 3-4
Freedman, D. A., & Bell, B. A. (November 01, 2009). Access to healthful foods among an urban
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Izumi, B. T., Wright, D. W., & Hamm, M. W. (January 01, 2010). Farm to school programs:
Exploring the role of regionally-based food distributors in alternative agrifood networks. Agriculture and Human Values, 27, 3, 335-350.
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Morland, K., Wing, S., Diez, R. A., & Poole, C. (January 01, 2002). Neighborhood
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Racine, E. F., Vaughn, A. S., & Laditka, S. B. (March 01, 2010). Farmers' Market Use among African-American Women Participating in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 110, 3, 441-446.