As a resident in a neighborhood with an influx of new people that do not know each other, I've notices that one of the great connectors is food; whether it’s in the form of neighborhood bbq’s, community gardens or potlucks...food brings people together.
There are the one time events such as potlucks and bbq's, but then there are things like CSAs, farmers markets, grocery stores, farm shares and community gardens whose focus is food with repeat engagement that grows community.
Community Sustained Agriculture (CSA) is a food share program. Members typically pay at the beginning of a season pay an upfront fee to purchase seasonal fresh vegetables (sometimes, fruit, meat, eggs and dairy, depending on the CSA) from local farmers. Members are required to volunteer during the season. Typically the the volunteer shift is about three hours with two or three other people providing time to talk to one another. The food pick up that occurs weekly. This process creates a repeat event where the same group of people come together around food. In the process, people share recipes, stories, catch up and meet one another. http://www.justfood.org/csa It is open to anyone who is interested in joining.
Farm shares. Dennis Derryck’s Corbin Hill Road Farm is creating a new model of addressing fresh food access in underserved neighborhoods. It’s similar to a CSA in that it is a food share program with produce coming from local farms, however it does not require volunteering and the payment structure is more flexible taking into consideration the problem of cash flow. This model of food distribution also is centered around a weekly/monthly food pick up based on the season at distribution points that include trusted neighborhood institutions such as churches. The cost structure is also is based on ability to pay. With more affluent members paying more and accepting food stamps. The long term goal in this iteration of the model is to allow participants to buy a share in the physical farm creating an added value to the participants and vesting interest. It is open to anyone who is interested in joining.
Farmers Markets. Creating a farmers markets also creates a space for neighbors to co-miingle and meet one another. The trick to making it work is providing food that is relevant to the neighborhood by figuring out what people like to eat and cook and understanding the price point. In terms of making sure that people can afford to purchase the food at these markets, at least in New York, the markets are finally starting to accept food stamps to help defray the cost of the produce. In terms of location these markets, at least in my neighborhood, occur in parks and in front of government buildings. It is open to anyone.
Grocery Stores. Eating areas in grocery stores have become meeting spaces for small community organizations in my neighborhood. Space and where to meet are always an issue if you are not an organization with office space. I do not believe that this was necessarily the initial use of this space, but that is what is happening in that space. Again, it has to be a store that understands the needs of the neighborhood. In our case, the demand for fresh produce at reasonable prices. The affordability of the food makes it a space where social-economic classes interact with one another as well as becoming a neutral ground for meetings. It is open to anyone.
Community Gardens. Community gardens provide a common ground for people to come together from all races, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds. I’ve personally been involved revitalizing a local community garden since 2008. It is one of the few spaces in the neighborhood where newer residents and long-time residents can come together towards common goals, planting food and beautifying the neighborhood. A membership for plots (often times a waiting list) and open hours for the public. Finding a garden...
In my case, it’s had a profound impact on my life. The garden that I’m involved in an open (on the weekends) public space has provided me with a way to meet people that I would not have otherwise have known (outside of my networks), grow food, learn what is happening in the neighborhood, understand the history of the land and neighborhood community, and involve me in politics and land use issues around the protection of community gardens and food justice.
I’ve seen the impact the garden has on residents that walk by, whether it is the grandmother walking her grandkid by to show him where a bean is from to residents entering into the garden and reminiscing about their grandparents gardens and farms outside of New York City.
Not only do the community gardens build community, but they also act as a innovation spaces where different types of experiments with growing and composting occur. I could keep going, instead I’ll leave you with a website…
Finally, not only is food engagement great for community building, but a focus on fresh and affordable foods can positively impact the health and wellbeing of the neighborhood.