5 Ways Neighborhoods Are Taking Control of Their Food Systems

We're glad Michelle Obama's got our back, but here's what some folks are doing on their own--and what you can do too.

By Juell Stewart Aug 13, 2010

Last week, the Senate unanimously passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. The bill, which Michelle Obama pushed as part of her childhood obesity campaign, would provide $4.5 billion in additional funding to federal child nutrition programs over a period of 10 years–the first federal funding boost in 30 years. The bulk of the money would go toward improving the quality of school meals, making sure that students have fresh produce and can even start school gardens. It’s an important step in getting low-income children nutritional necessities. 

We know that African-American, Latino and Native American children all have higher rates of obesity than their white counterparts, in large part because of how little access many communities of color have to healthy fruits and vegetables. As the first lady has stressed, fixing this doesn’t stop with government intervention. The food manufacturing and distribution industries will have to take responsibility for its role in creating this disparity as well. 

But many food-deprived communities aren’t waiting around for that to happen; they’re taking steps to reclaim their food systems. Here are five ways they’re doing it.

Farmers Markets

"People need good food, but they need to be able to buy it," says Travis Tench, who runs three weekly farmers’ markets in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Trench’s EcoStation:New York maintains a community garden that both provides food for the markets and teaches Bushwick residents how to grow and cook fresh produce. Make sure your farmers’ market accepts WIC/EBT so that everybody can access their goods. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Cooperative Food Buying

Want to work with your neighbors to save time and money when buying healthy food? A buying club is a good place to start. Members typically work together and divide duties to order and distribute food purchased in bulk. Buying clubs can fill the food gaps in communities with little access to healthy food, while maintaining low prices by eliminating the overhead charged by supermarkets. (Photo by Dolan Halbrook/CC)


Urban Farms

"All the major grocery stores left the city and we didn’t have anywhere to buy groceries," says Nefer Ra Barber, co-chair and farm manager at the Detroit Black Food Security Network. Rather than relying on convenience stores to buy food, Barber and other Detroiters took matters into their own hands and started a two-acre urban farm. D-Town Farm partners with schools to teach healthy eating habits and agriculture to kids. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

Community Supported Agriculture

A CSA functions like a buying club, except you purchase "shares" of fresh fruits and vegetables from a local farmer. The farmer then delivers its harvest to your community and it’s distributed to members. Starting a CSA takes time–you must plan in the fall ahead of the growing season–but it’s rewarding. Many CSAs, like the one in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, make shares affordable with sliding-scale pricing. (Photo by thebittenword/CC)

Youth Leadership Development

Will Allen started Growing Power on his Milwaukee farm in 1993. Since then, it’s taught thousands of teens in Milwaukee and Chicago everything from growing cabbage to making compost.  "It’s been great to see children create a community in the garden," says Laurell Sims in the Growing Power Chicago office. This summer, Growing Power started a 2.5-acre farm at a housing project on Chicago’s South Side. It will employ 40 teens and 150 adults. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)