Deserts and Swamps

April 11, 2018 12:27 pm

Have you heard of them before?

A food desert is defined by the Department of Agriculture as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers. Department of Agriculture reported that 18 million Americans live in a food desert, meaning that they live more than one mile from a supermarket in an urban or suburban areas and more than 10 miles from a supermarket in rural areas. A food swamp is an area devoid of any healthy food and stacked with fast food establishments and other high sugar, high sodium type restaurants. The combination of them, makes for very unhealthy eating habits, lack of options, lack of nutritional education, high obesity rates, and the list goes on and on.

Well, at the Neighborhood Leadership Academy (aka’ed NLA), one of the speakers was the assistant city manager, who happens to oversee the Sustainability Development Department, who in turn oversees the Building Services, Code Enforcement, Economic and Community Management and Urban Design and Planning Departments. It’s ok if you have no idea what any of these departments do. But since I’m trying to fix a problem, I need to know who I need to talk to and from where.

After he was done, as they all do, he asked if we had any questions. I raised my hand, cause I just cannot help myself for the life of me! I asked if the Sustainability Development Dept. would be the right office to contact about food deserts. He looked at me with a complete blank expression.

“Do you know what that is?” I asked

“Ahh…. Nope. What is that?” he said.

I proceeded to explain the paragraph above. The gentleman siting next to me started nodding and chiming in with more information about food deserts. Between the two of us, we bombarded the assistant city manger with facts about the horrible effects that food deserts have on already struggling communities. The assistant city manager must have heard something he liked because he immediately pulled out his phone to schedule a meeting with us to discuss the subject further. Ok. Sure, why not. I found out that the gentleman sitting next to me is a chef, so after the class was over that night, the chef and I exchanged phone numbers and planned to sit down and put our thoughts together.

In the mean time, I had also arranged to have a cup a coffee with the chief volunteer guy, German Gorge, or GG. I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t know GG. If you live, work, play, or just drive by Fort Lauderdale, you have met GG. I wanted to talk about more ways to get involved, specifically with children’s activities around the city. But that was before having scheduled a meeting with the assistant city manager about food deserts.

The day that I was at the March for our Lives with my mom friends, GG was at my house with the husband, 2kicks, Mr Melania, baby shark, and his dad putting a little library in my front yard. The husband was a little annoyed that I had scheduled an event at the house, and I wasn’t even going to be there! When we met for coffee, GG and I had a great conversation about farmers markets, convenience stores, specific neighborhoods, pros and cons of each, possible collaborations, and all that good stuff. That man is a bottomless pit of city information knowledge, finding resources, and time! I don’t know how he gets everything done… He might be a wizard….

So yesterday was the meeting. The chef, his wife and I came up with some really good ideas, that we talked about with assistant city manager and GG, and they gave us some great feedback, on how to proceed from here. I had researched what other cities and communities are doing to help alleviate the problem. 2kicks sat back with her headphones, singing the alphabet song, for the entire meeting. People by now know that they can count on me, but I come with a tail.

Here’s the thing, people mostly fell in love with the idea of a farmer’s market and community gardens. They’re hipster as hell, stacked with greeneries, local breads, cheeses and honey. They’re full of local business and cute rustic accents. Well, having over six hundred squares feet of raised beds, I know first hand that unless you love your garden, chances are you’re not going to do it a second season. The shear amount of work that needs to go into a garden is enough that I have seriously thought about taking it all down several times. And this is our fifth season! So after the chef and I left the meeting, we concluded that we don’t need more gardens, we need to help educate about proper nutrition, we need to promote the gardens we have, figure out several outlets to distribute the actual food, and get big collaborators like supermarket chains and the Board of Education. I’ll get into that in another post.

I don’t want to get into the details, but all in all, it was a productive meeting. I have to make a bunch of phone calls and send some emails. Maybe some of them will lead to something, but probably not. Let’s not forget that it took Leslie Knope eight years to build a park…. and that was a fictional TV character on a TV show, where things move at lighting speed compare to real life. I’m trying to fix socio-economic astronomical nutritional health disparities. It might take me a little longer.

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