Alexandria, Virginia: Stopping the Poor from Growing Food

By Ted Brooks
Food Freedom News

At the end of this article is stunningly false resolution by City of Alexandria.  It superficially seems to reflect caring about the health of its citizens, especially of those who are poor and sick, but the reality is quite different.

In housing projects in the city, where poor people used to grow food, the housing authority in Alexandria prevents anyone from doing so now.  No plants, no pots, no nothing, is allowed, and yet food gardening there used to be common.  How does stopping poor people from growing their own food at their own expense right outside their own doors, teaching their own children, including adolescents to do so, too, dovetail with Alexandria’s blather about “increasing equitable access to safe, healthy, and sustainably grown food, particularly for children and adolescents”?  Or encouraging local …. food production”?

While Alexandria talks about “exploring opportunities to expand and promote farmers’ markets and community gardens, especially in low-income neighborhoods,” they have done is create a few community gardens for what looks like approximately only 250 plots and fee-based at that, while they have specifically blocked the “opportunity” of people in low-income neighborhoods which the city controls directly, to simply grow their own food and create their own informal exchange markets, right there and among themselves.
While Alexandria talks about “educating citizens about and increasing equitable access to safe, healthy, and sustainably grown food,” it is cutting off the natural education from parents and grandparents many of whom come from backgrounds in which gardening and farming were common.  People were already doing this themselves in the gardens they created right outside their doorsteps in housing projects.  The City ended that free and highly effective education on growing real food, and cut off access to the small bits of land taxpayers have paid for, to help the poor.

Instead, in Alexandria, the poor are going backwards, with land right there but with no one allowed to use it.  Grass is grown there, but nothing to eat.  The growing of food in Alexandria has been limited for the poor to only where the government has decided to appear beneficent – in community gardens – while true “community” gardens that sprang up naturally in communities right where people live, and which were feeding many more than 250 people, are banned.

The wrecking of the healthier way people were living and their removal of their immediate access to the freshest possible food – right at their doorstep – is buried in a whole lot of blather.  Here’s a sample   “Partnership for a Heallher Alexandria’s ACHIEVE Planning Team received a grant from the CDC to work with policy and grass-roots leaders to implement policy, systems, and environmental changes to create healthier lifestyles, including more nutritional diets and equal access to fresh foods ….

“While having banned organic gardens for the poor and tearing out any gardens that people once had, the City of Alexandria simultaneously honors “First Lady Michelle Obarna [who] has created an organic garden at the White House and has worked with children throughout DC to encourage healthy food choices as well as to encourage the use of community gardens and farmers markets ….”

Then the City goes on to list the illnesses of the very poor they have snatched gardens away from:

“over 40% of Alexandria children and teens are overweight or obese with 70% of childredteens not eating enough fruits and vegetables; …. a large percentage of residents …. suffer from chronic, diet-related disease, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity; and …. Alexandria’s low-income residents need greater access to healthy, fresh, and affordable produce, as many of these communities currently have a large percentage of residents who suffer from chronic, diet-related disease, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity; …Concluding that “Eating h i t s [fruits?] and vegetables can help decreases the risk of various ailments, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and various cancers;”…. and bragging about how “The City of Alexandria strives to be an “Eco-City” by promoting health, nutrition, and lifestyles that are ecologically sustainable ….”

The City of Alexandria seems to be lost in its own blather.  Are they unaware that removing food gardens full of real and nutritious food from the poor who put the gardens in themselves and which give them free food, is the opposite of ecological or of concern for the poor’s well-being?  Of it is that the City simply lost all bearing in the haze of using words like “sustainable” and “nutrition” and “ecological” and “equal access” so many times that it can’t any longer tell the difference between its own high-sounding, green-slinging, help-the-poor-and-sick hot air from its garden-banning, health-denying, education-blocking, ugly-policy-ing, food access-destroying reality?

Can the City of Alexandria not see for itself that it is failing to meet the needs of people in Alexandria who want to garden when it says “Alexandria now has approximately 200 community garden plots in three community locations that provide residents with access to fresh, local food; help build stronger community ties; and are in-demand by residents with a waiting list of over 100 people ….”

Does the City not understand that taking away what was free and in the community (because it was right there), and only “allowing” gardening for fee, some distance from people’s home and not enough in first place is not a positive thing but absurd?  If the City had provided community gardens for free and on top of the gardens many people had themselves, it would be adding to local fresh food.  As it is, the city removed food gardens, got grants which went to policy makers and others, and built a scarce commodity that costs money.

The Alexandria City Council goes on to affirm its strong support for locally grown food – though apparently it shouldn’t be grown by the poor.  It also affirms its desire to increase residents’ access to local, fresh fruits, and vegetables – though seemingly sees no conflict between saying that and having its housing authority decrease the poor’s access to the same.  The City Council urges that the city procure locally produced food, as well as businesses, individuals, schools and other associations and organizations, but the Housing Authority in Alexandria has made sure in advance that the poor who have generations of experience growing food, who not be the ones to benefit.  Where their ability to grow food could be a means to small incomes, instead, the poor have been forcibly made food-less, and left job-less, while organizations and agencies and people are strongly encouraged to buy exactly what the poor are being prevented from producing.

Are the words “equal access” without actual meaning in Alexandria since Alexandria’s approach to its poorest citizens most of them black) is no access.  Or extremely limited access, waiting list and costs, rather than what they had without the City’s help – full access to growing their own nutritious food and for free.

The City Council ends with these odd words (emphasis added) for its resolution:  “Facilitate partnerships between the City, community organizations, non-profit organizations, local businesses, faith-based organizations, and local farmers to assist the residents of Alexandria– children, teens, and low-income individuals, in particular - with access to locally produced food by offering classes and workshops in gardening, nutrition, and cooking.”

How sly.  Looking carefully, one sees that in the end the City offers “access to locally produced food” not by providing access to it or to growing it, but by offering classes and workshops about it.

And how contemptuous, since the poor in Alexandria were gardening on their own, producing nutritious food, and cooking without anyone’s help.  And they were teaching their children and grandchildren on their own as well.  This last is important because a city that removes gardens from the poor is not a City to teach children about sustainability or anything else.  And most tellingly, the 13 school programs for children under this resolution are to teach children about “habitats, and to nurture the living things within them.”  That is not a description of learning to growi food.  The system being recommended, in fact, if one looks carefully, is one that arranges for government delivery of food, and one that only buys locally grown fruits and vegetables “when feasible.”  That is a loophole the City could drive a whole global industrial food system through.

Before the Housing Authority banned the poor’s gardens, locally grown fruits and vegetables were not just “feasible” for poor families growing their own food, but routine.Meawhile, the Alexandria City Public School Department of Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) got awarded $13,325, not for local food procurement, but to hook up with the federal Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, for a local school.  How did this “healthy food initiative” that waves the word “local” around so endlessly, suddenly take a dramatic turn at the end of the resolution to end up with a federal program?  And dare one ask, what food is being provided by a government  that is aggressively approving GMOs that are proven to cause cancer and early deaths, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6A3ARr_viPw and that provides the babies of the poor with GM-soy infant formula when GM soy is linked to sterility?  http://www.austinhealthycooking.com/news/info%20pages/GMO%20sterility.htm

Alexandria, Virginia is not alone in banning the poor from their growing food in public housing projects while making a show of community gardens.  Those gardens are not right where people live, they include a fee, and they come nowhere near providing communities – poor or not – with adequate land to grow fresh, nutritious food.

All public housing in the country must allow residents to grow their own food, without interference or “help” from government.  Given the government’s ties to the biotech industry, such help would likely come in the form of GMO seeds, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers, despite their links to cancers and premature death.

Healthy Food Alexandria initiative

Resolution

WHEREAS, Alexandria’s Environmental Action Plan, adopted by the City Council in June of 2009, established 48 goals and 353 actions to guide sustainability efforts, including educating citizens about and increasing equitable access to safe, healthy, and sustainably grown food, particularly for children and adolescents; encouraging local and regional food production; and exploring opportunities to expand and promote farmers’ markets and community gardens, especially in low-income neighborhoods; and

WHEREAS the Partnership for a Heallher Alexandria’s ACHIEVE Planning Team received a grant from the CDC to work with policy and grass-roots leaders to implement policy, systems, and environmental changes to create healthier lifestyles, including more nutritional diets and equal access to fresh foods and safe recreation spaces for all Alexandria children; and

WHEREAS, First Lady Michelle Obarna has created an organic garden at the White House and has worked with children throughout DC to encourage healthy food choices as well as to encourage the use of community gardens and farmers markets; and

WHEREAS, A 2007 Inova Health System survey found that over 40% of Alexandria children and teens are overweight or obese with 70% of childredteens not eating enough fruits and vegetables; and

WHEREAS, Alexandria has a large percentage of residents who suffer from chronic, diet-related disease, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity; and

WHEREAS, Alexandria’s low-income residents need greater access to healthy, fresh, and affordable produce, as many of these communities currently have a large percentage of residents who suffer from chronic, diet-related disease, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity; and

WHEREAS, Eating h i t s and vegetables can help decreases the risk of various ailments, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and various cancers; and

WHEREAS, 53% of the students enrolled in Alexandria City Public School (ACPS) are eligible for free or reduced price meals and ACPS serves over 2 million meals per year (455,299 breakfasts, 1,218,409 lunches and 434,000 snacks ) and purchases locally grown fruits and vegetables when feasible and seasonally available; and

WHEREAS, the ACPS Department of Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) has been awarded $13,325 to initiate the federal Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program at Jefferson- Houston School this school year. The program is designed to provide additional fresh fruit and vegetables to students outside of school meal times; and

WHEREAS, ACPS currently provide13 learning gardens to teach students about habitats, and to nurture the living things within them; and

WHEREAS, ACPS now has a 2009-2010 goal to compost leftovers at all schools which are provided to Chinquapin community gardens as fertilizer; and

WHEREAS, Alexandria now has approximately 200 community garden plots in three community locations that provide residents with access to fresh, local food; help build stronger community ties; and are in-demand by residents with a waiting list of over 100 people; and

WHEREAS, the mid-Atlantic region is home to a wide range of farms producing fresh, sustainable, locally grown products; and

WHEREAS, Alexandria now has 4 farmers markets that offer a wide array of food, much of which is grown in a sustainable way, yet this food is still largely inaccessible to low- income residents; and

WHEREAS, Many Alexandria restaurants, groceries and businesses already strive to purchase ingredients that are fresh and locally grown; and

WHEREAS, Eating locally can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by shortening the distance food has to travel as well as help the local economy by keeping existing farms in business, attracting new farmers, and creating new local jobs in food production, processing, distribution and retailing.

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Alexandria City Council:

1. AFFIRMS its strong support of food that is grown locally and in an environmentally sustainable manner;

2. AFFIRMS its desire to increase Alexandria residents’ access to local, fresh fruits, and vegetables, and other plant-based-foods;

3. REQUESTS that the City of Alexandria seek opportunities through its procurement efforts to take advantage of locally produced food;

4. RECOMMENDS that the City of Alexandria, businesses, individuals, schools, civic associations and community-based organizations work to purchase food that is grown locally;

5. ENCOURAGES community-initiated as well as public-private efforts to expand access to farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), for residents of all ages, abilities, and income-levels;

6. SUPPORTS an increase in federal fimding for the National School Lunch Program to provide higher quality and healthier meals in our schools with locally sustainable food practices;

7. ENCOURAGES citizen-initiated development of urban and community gardens and garden plots, on both City, school, and private property; and

8. SUPPORTS the creation of a City-wide citizen-led initiative, called Healthy Food Alexandria, endorsed by the Partnership for a Healthier Alexandria and the Environmental Policy Commission that would:

Work to increase public awareness about sustainable, local foods by organizing education events and by providing special recognition to restaurants, businesses and organizations that utilize local food produced using sustainable methods,

Help encourage the development of more community gardens throughout the city.

Help encourage the development of more farmers markets throughout the city.

Seek opportunities to allow food stamps to be accepted at farmers markets,

Support and encourage community education efforts to help children learn about healthy and locally produced foods by expanding locally- sourced food in their school-provided meals and by creating more opportunities for children to grow their own food.

Encourage food service companies to take advantage of local, seasonal food whenever possible, and

Facilitate partnerships between the City, community organizations, non-profit organizations, local businesses, faith-based organizations, and local farmers to assist the residents of Alexandria– children, teens, and low-income individuals, in particular-with access to locally produced food by offering classes and workshops in gardening, nutrition, and cooking.

Adopted: March 23,2010

ATTEST:
Jacqueline M. Henderson, CMC City Clerk

WLLIAM D. EUILLE, MAYOR

1 comment for “Alexandria, Virginia: Stopping the Poor from Growing Food

Comments are closed.