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How do we raise awareness of local food?

Marc Lefkowitz  |  09/09/09 @ 5:15pm

A top point from today's Cleveland-Cuyahoga Food Policy Coalition quarterly meeting is education around fresh food has and will continue to shrink 'food deserts'?Cleveland neighborhoods where access to fresh food is near impossible. Jenita McGowan recapped her community dialogue in four Cleveland neighborhoods where she asked residents what they consider fresh food, where they get it and why they don't.

Price, quality, choice, access to information and transportation are the big issues for people living in 'food deserts'. Food deserts of up to five miles for inner city residents are common in urban areas across the U.S., Mark Winne, a national food rights professional and author of "Closing the Food Gap" comments in the LESS Productions film "Polycultures" which the coalition screened one of four segments today.

McGowan's interviews, conducted while a Cleveland Executive Fellow, ranged from seniors living in Slavic Village to young adults in Glenville. Common solutions emerged.

"Kids want more variety in school lunch programs," she said. "People want healthier options even if they're in the corner stores. They want to coordinate rideshares to the Coit Road Farmer's Market (which is open year-round). They want to reopen the Eastside Market. They want to create a method to share information with each other about getting fresh healthy affordable food."

Food stamps can be used at CityFresh and many farmer's markets, but a need is disseminating information to recipients, such as how to use them and where.

"It's important to continue the conversation," McGowan concluded. "I saw a need to address food safety ? a lot of people are afraid they'll get sick (from the food available in the corner stores). We might need a single sheet that tells you where you can access healthy food, similar to the Northeast Ohio Homeless Coalition's shelter options flier."

The segment of "Polycultures" aired today looked at the amazing growth in three years of New Agrarian Center and OSU Extension's CityFresh from one to sixteen FreshStops where Clevelanders pay for fresh fruits and veggies from local farms and pick them up by the bagful each week. It's a testament to the growing demand for fresh food in the city. Food comes from farms like NAC's George Jones Farm, a 70-acre farm that was converted from conventional to organic in Oberlin. To rebuild the soil on an organic farm takes relationships, says NAC chief Brad Masi, such as getting Oberlin College to agree to collect food waste for compost.

A nutritional education expert suggested to filmmakers David Pearl and Tom Kondilas that they align lessons from their film with state standards for education in order to get it purchased and placed in the curriculum in Cleveland Municipal Schools. The food policy group could figure out how to rediscover the Cleveland schools' horticulture program that thrived until the 1970s (food and nutrition get an average of two hours a year in the schools today, Winne remarked, compared to three hours of TV daily).

Masi noted that CSU's Levin College gallery is displaying the Cleveland Memory Project's photos on Cleveland's horticulture/urban agriculture history. In conjunction, the college will host a forum on September 16 called "Feeding Cleveland: Creating a sustainable local food system" with Clair Hinrich, author, "Remaking the North American Food System: Strategies for Sustainability." Her talk is followed by a panel of local food advocates moderated by Barbara Strauss, who is managing the CSU Library's collection of the Cleveland Schools' horticulture program archives. Other important local food event is the Innovative Farmers of Ohio symposium on sustainable food production seminar at Trinity Commons on September 19 with keynote Kathleen Harris discussing a program she started in New York connecting local farmers and consumers. Breakout sessions include Challenging the school cafeteria, and policies and legislation that will affect food choices.

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