Community visioning for a just food system
“There is no substitute for having a clearly articulated vision from people who live in a place,” says Sutton Kiplinger, Greater Boston Regional Director at The Food Project. “Residents can and should share their priorities around the food system.” To achieve this, the Food Project partnered with Boston’s Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) and Alternatives for Community & Environment, a Massachusetts nonprofit organization focused on environmental justice, to work toward a neighborhood food system vision. The process brought neighbors together to determine what types of food and food infrastructure they wanted in their community. Like many lower-income neighborhoods, Dudley Street shows the classic indicators of a food system that prioritizes profit over people’s health, including elevated rates of obesity (27 percent), diabetes (11 percent), and heart-disease hospitalizations (15 per 1,000 residents) compared to Boston as a whole.
Four goals emerged from the nine-month planning process: a resident-owned supply chain for great food; permanently secured vacant land for growing; improved food in local schools; and physical development that supports the food-system vision. The residents also made clear that they didn’t want organizations to distribute free food, as that makes it difficult for locally-owned food stores to thrive.
Today, DSNI and The Food Project co-facilitate Dudley Grows, a coalition that includes neighborhood residents, business owners, funders, and local organizations, to guide projects that align with the neighborhood’s goals. For instance, to build the resident-owned food supply chain in Dudley, resident-owned grocery stores, caterers, and other small businesses have come together to find sources of produce available at wholesale prices. In the pilot phase, The Food Project is supplying that produce from its farms, with the goal of building a system that will be viable for other local farmers to enter into as it grows. Dudley Grows is also partnering with the City of Boston to pilot a program that will offer a SNAP incentive at resident-owned corner stores that offer local produce: shoppers will receive 50 cents on the dollar when they purchase fruits and vegetables.
The group has also had success in securing vacant land for growing. The Food Project supported a group of neighbors in building the new Folsom Street Community Garden, which will soon be transferred to the community land trust managed by DSNI. It offers a model for development of additional community-owned and -managed growing spaces that the coalition is now working toward.
Partly as a result of the Dudley Grows coalition’s increased focus on improving school food, three local elementary schools are planning to participate in a pilot program in which they will receive renovated kitchens, enabling the staff to cook and serve food from scratch.