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The Importance of “Staying Put” to Advance Sustainable Food (Part I of III)

Posted by Lynn Miller on Tue, May 17, 2011

A guest post from 4GreenPs’ wonderful intern, Adrienne Weil, soon to graduate with her MBA from Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business.

Five years ago in DC, you would have been hard-pressed to find an entire conference devoted to “The Future of Food.”   Thankfully, times have changed.  DC truly is one of the most appropriate places for such an exchange of ideas.  We’re a burgeoning foodie town, and crucial policy decisions occur down the street.   Hundreds gathered in Georgetown’s Gaston Hall on May 4 for a day of panels focused on ordinary people, the future of agriculture, health and nutrition and international food.

Oh yeah, and The Prince of Wales, Wendell Berry and Tom Vilsack were there, among others.  No big deal or anything.

Throughout the day, several themes emerged:

The importance of improving access to healthy, fresh food: As Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, opened the first panel, he said, “the wealthy will always eat well,” but every person deserves access to healthy, affordable food.  With the real value minimum wage 40% lower than it was in 1968, people will do the best with what they have; unfortunately, that often means the “nutritional cocaine” of the drive-thru (Ronald Shaich, Founder and Executive Chairman of the Board, Panera Bread).

Robert Ross, President of the California Endowment, showed the cruel irony of California’s demographics.  California’s Central Valley – the “breadbasket of America” – includes 5,994 census block groups that are food deserts.  The most scientific determinant of how long we’ll live is our zip code.  Place matters when it comes to health.

“Re-localization”: Several panelists urged that re-localizing foods buffers against unpredictable world market prices and reinforces biodiversity and resilience.  Will Allen, Founder and CEO of Growing Power, pointed out, “Big ag hasn’t fed the world.”  Growing Power has composted 22M pounds for 1,500 urban farms in order to grow new soil.  We lose nutrients with distance, so he believes scaling up community farms is crucial – a la Applegate Farms, whose Founder and CEO was on a panel.

Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder and CEO of Policy Link, stated that only 8% of African-Americans in census tracts have access to supermarkets; there has been a disinvestment in low-income communities, the very places where fresh food is needed most.   However, there are glimmers of hope: a Brown ShopRite in Pennsylvania has helped rejuvenate the neighborhood.  It boasts a community room and hires formerly incarcerated individuals.

Next up: Part II: Food Policy and the Nation’s Children

– Adrienne Weil

Tags: Food Marketing, Washington DC Region: Green Business