Real Food For Thought

In Baltimore and Washington, D.C., fresh thinking about food

BALTIMORE — How does a city recoup from food emergencies — cutoffs of normal supply triggered by storms, droughts or civil unrest? How does it assure an ongoing supply of healthy and fresh foods, especially for low-income neighbourhoods?

A report released in Baltimore this month takes a fresh look at the issue. It examines threats to Baltimore’s food supply and suggests responses to emergencies, from heavy snowstorms to terrorism, that can easily strangle the flow of food into the city.

Among the recommendations of the report from the Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future is to create neighbourhood centres to store food and serve residents in times of crisis.

It’s not the first time Baltimore has wrestled with the issue. In 2015, this U. S. city experienced a serious food disruption following riots sparked by the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year old black man who was in police custody. Dozens of food stores were looted and barricaded. The city government ordered supermarkets to shut down early. Schools were closed, causing thousands of students who receive subsidized meals to miss them.

The consequences of such events can be serious. In the words of Sarah Buzogany, a Baltimore food access planner: “It doesn’t take a lot to push a family over the edge from hanging in there to food insecurity.”

Baltimore has, however, become a leading U. S. city in taking issues of food access and quality seriously. A city task force recommended, in 2009, not just formulation of a clear city plan for food access but also appointment of a full-time director of food policy within the city government. That person is Holly Freishtat, who now has colleagues in nearly two dozen other U. S. cities, including New York City, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Salt Lake City, that also have hired full-time food-policy directors.

“Food is not in an issue of just one agency,” Freishtat says. “It must be advisory in a city government … to impact offices ranging from planning to sustainability, transportation to ageing.  Name any one of them and there’s a food aspect.”  The danger, she says, is that “our positions tend to go when a mayor retires.”

Hers hasn’t. And Baltimore has continued a clear focus on the topic with a Food Policy Action Coalitionthat convenes bi-monthly meetings of 50 to 70 officials and community leaders to review city food policy planning and legislation. Awareness is bolstered by maps showing, for each city council district, areas of “food deserts” that lack access to full-service supermarkets and significant offerings of fresh foods. By late 2018, the city hopes to issue an updated disaster preparedness plan that includes community food storage and emergency communication plans.

In the meantime, Baltimore has revised its statutes to permit once-forbidden city agriculture — within limits, residents are allowed to raise bees, rabbits and chickens. The city is providing a 90-percent property-tax credit to city farmers who produce USD 5,000 of crops annually. And at “Real Food Farm”, an 8-acre (3-hectare) operation operated in a blighted neighbourhood by a nonprofit known as Civic Works, groups of students from local high schools and universities are welcomed for briefings on food systems, urban farming and food justice issues.

Read the whole article online at CitiScope. Photo credit to Mark L. Dennis/Baltimore Mayor’s office.

About Emily Slaughter

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