Food Deserts, Farmer’s Markets, and a Foodie Coming Clean

It’s important that everyone has access to the same good food. Regardless of their economic standing. This is about social justice. Kyle gets this.”-  Will Allen, founder of Growing Power 2011 Recipient of MacArthur Genius Award.

Do I?  When Will gave me that quote I was both humbled and reaffirmed. What higher complement as the host of a television show called Wisconsin Foodie, that is in essences is about “where your food comes from” than Will’s quote?

Will and I had shot an early Wisconsin Foodie episode together, shared a handful of like minded forums and events, and in essence been reading out of the same playbook as far food issues, sustainability and urban agriculture go.  Will Allen is a stalwart pioneer and implementer of all those precious concepts, and had been living them for more than 2 decades.   I had been enlightened by them with the advent of the show, and living them in a no less important but smaller way, with a commitment to advocate the same mindset as Will.  Or so I thought.

“It’s important that everyone has access to the same good food,” the quote states.

For 18 years I had been a resident of Walker’s Point.  One of the Milwaukee’s 3 original neighborhoods, founded by George Walker in 1835.  Just under one square mile it’s more than twice the size of the 3rd ward, and just a 3rd less in size than Shorewood.

But here’s the rub, Walker’s Point, save of one bodega, has no grocery store.

For the last 6 years, despite walking lock step with Will Allen and others as the American discourse came to include terms like “food desert”, I had a dearth of consciousness that I was living in one.

I delightedly drove to the East Side to shop at Outpost or Whole Foods. I fetched artisinal cheeses, breads and fish at the Milwaukee Public Market.  I drove further into the South Side to buy sausages exclusively at European Homemade Sausage.

Near the end of 2012, my “food desert” neighborhood, while I still clueless drove across town, moved forward to fix what Will Allen would call “the same access to healthy food”.   The Walker’s Point Association, after urging from residents, went out to developers and grocers to find a fit.  A site fell into place, at the corner of 1st and Greenfield, a developer stepped forth, as grocer.  Swell, let’s break ground and let the people buy their vegetables.  Not exactly.  I may have been inured to that fact I was living in a “food desert”, but once I realized locusts and wild honey weren’t going to cut it, I got all evangelical.  I wish I could say the same for the city, specifically commissioner, Marcuox.

I am not here to opine about the inability of civic officials to grasp what is really germane to city residents, (this program is only an hour long) but I do know this. Marcuox opposed a grocery of any kind, and championed more light industrial and offices for the location whose stars had aligned, and neighborhood overall.  Beyond that, suffice to say I have been privy to more backward thinking, near subterfuge and general urban planning clueless-ness enough to fill the isles of any idyllic soft lit farmer’s market.

What grates me is that as a city we have touted our Urban Ag Sustainability card, held Will Allen up as national hood ornament if you will or a rust belt city gone all enlightened, but we still eschew access to food where it is needed.  The grocery may still happen, but the residents of a city’s food desert will have to wait for another year at best instead of shopping there this holiday season.

In these days between the bounty of Thanksgiving and New Years, I thought more than ever about “where OUR food comes from” in our home.  The decisions we made for our cupboards and kitchen were not just mediated by

income and culinary acumen, but by access.

Will’s quote about me said-

It’s important that everyone has access to the same good food. This is about social justice. Kyle gets this.”-

Yes Will, now I do.

My holiday wish as a Foodie is for my old neighborhood of Walker’s Point.  I wish that they get that access too.