Last month the US Department of Agriculture released a report on food deserts – areas in the United States where communities lack access to supermarkets and other outlets selling foods necessary for a healthy diet. According to the report, 2.3 million Americans live more than a mile from a supermarket and do not have access to a vehicle. The report goes on to say that the “urban core areas with limited food access are characterized by higher levels of racial segregation and greater income inequality.” In short, this problem largely affects low income communities and people of color. In recent years, there have been efforts by food justice activists around the country to bridge the food gap. One group in Chicago is taking back the food system online.
The Umoja Student Development Corporation is a Chicago-based, youth development organization which runs a six-week summer program in partnership with youth media group Free Spirit to film a short documentary about food deserts in the predominately African American community of North Lawndale.
“In my neighborhood, there are no grocery stores,” said Porsha Treadwell, a student intern in Umoja’s community builders program. “It is unfair that my community doesn’t have the same access to healthy foods as other communities. It’s just not right.”
In addition to learning how to grow organic foods in community gardens and polling residents about their food shopping habits, the student interns have also kept a blog for the duration of the program about their own eating habits and the various social and environmental injustices that block access to food equity.
Also on the blog, the youth have created a slide show, displaying photos of themselves learning how to use cameras for their documentary.
Treadwell said this program has been a rewarding experience. She noted that she has had informative conversations with other residents about the food problem in the community, and how they now feel empowered to do something about it.
“When a community comes together, we can do powerful things,” she said.