Access to local, fresh, organic produce is often correlated with elite, over-priced, and often difficult-to-reach Farmers' Markets. However, the energetic, efficient food and vegetable vendors of the developing world show us that local, organic produce does not have to be difficult to bring to the masses.
The low-income residents of food desert Detroit, Michigan, similar to low-income residents of other cities, are forced to rely on the expensive, unhealthy selection of food at convenience stores. There are no chain supermarkets in the city, and few residents can afford to drive to the suburbs to buy fresh produce. Also, even if fresh produce were available, many families do not have the time, knowledge (how to cook), or tools (pots, pans, etc) to make healthy food.
So, an approach bringing fresh produce to inner cities must include:
a. a convenient, safe location to buy produce.
b. affordable prices.
c. raising awareness about the importance of good nutrition.
d. tools (cooking classes, pots/pans) to make healthy food.
We can create collaboration between local vendors (local farmers/urban food entrepreneurs) and inner-city schools. Vendors will sell their wares outside schools when parents are picking up their kids, making it convenient for over-worked parents to buy fresh produce and raising awareness at a family level.
Simultaneously, vendors and other community members will host cheap cooking workshops for middle and high school students in school kitchens, in order to bring fresh food, cooking knowledge, and a deeper understanding of food systems into homes. Students will pay a nominal fee for all ingredients and the workshop, and then bring the food home to their families. Students themselves could be empowered to host or co-host these classes.
This collaboration between vendors, schools, and other community members will:
· Lower the price of the produce by keeping it local (low transportation costs), simplifying the packaging and presentation (since they will not have to pay for a market stall and branding, as they might in a Farmers’ Market), and increase demand (since produce will reliably be bought weekly for cooking workshops)
· Foster food entrepreneurship. Linkages could be made with microfinance institutions to help new entrepreneurs. We could possibly empower women that work part-time to start a food business as another source of income.
· Allow vendors to become a part of the fabric of the community and move hearts and minds toward good nutrition.
· Allow students to be the conduit to bring food knowledge to their families, and conversely, family and ethnic recipes to other students.
· Engage students in constructive activities after school and bring parents into the conversation.
· Allow buyers to interact directly with growers and hear their stories.The collaboration between vendors and other community members could take the form of a cooperative that shares the costs, risk, and profits of the venture. Throughout the process, the cooperative could target teenagers by making fresh produce trendy. (For example, by selling attractive reusable shopping bags that are environmentally sustainable.)