Andrew Galarneau: Grassroots efforts help water the seeds of food security on the East Side | Local News
Samina Raja, an internationally renowned University at Buffalo expert in building sustainable food systems and healthy communities, has spent more than 20 years researching how to help feed people living in grocery-free neighborhoods, focusing on the east side of Buffalo.
The solution, she says, is a classic case where something is simple, but not easy.
“The city’s black neighborhoods need sustained structural investment, not charity by plane,” she and other UB Food Lab researchers said in an op-ed on CivilEats.com.
The dilemma drew attention in the days after a murderer killed 10 people at Tops Markets on Jefferson Avenue and suddenly, violently, swept away the place where residents could shop.
But community leaders have been paying attention to it for much longer than that, as three examples show.
Bailey Green Wellness Center
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In 2014, Allison DeHonney launched Urban Fruits and Veggies and Buffalo Go Green, its nonprofit arm. Urban Fruits is an urban farm that offers fresh vegetables and gardening classes to neighbors in DeHonney, three blocks from Jefferson Tops.
Since 2018 she has been working on the development of a multi-purpose wellness center as part of the Bailey Green Revitalization and Sustainability Project. The $7.9 million project includes six hydroponic greenhouses to maintain the farm’s production throughout the year.
The project was supported by $50,000 in seed funding from the Dedrick Foundation, but the search for funding continues, DeHonney said.
A holistic wellness center won’t duplicate clinical services, but in partnership with a federally funded clinic, people can get physical therapy, have their blood pressure tested, and be referred to a doctor.
The basement will be dedicated to the cold storage of fruits and vegetables, allowing the market to work directly with Erie County farmers. Many Erie County farmers have said they would like to supply fresh vegetables to the East Side, but they need infrastructure, DeHonney said.
After a Covid-19-related pause in development work, DeHonney is awaiting news from city officials regarding the purchase of seven vacant lots on Zenner Street, two blocks west of Bailey Avenue.
African Heritage Food Cooperative
“We have a building, we have the engine, we have the architect, we have the environmental studies, we have the renderings,” African Heritage Food Co-op founder Alex Wright told media outside the Carlton Street building in which it plans to open. “The only thing we don’t have is funding. Help us do something that’s in the community, for the community.”
Alex Wright grew up on the East Side and started developing a food co-op six years ago. In Fruit Belt, a grocery-free neighborhood 1.7 miles from the Jefferson Tops, he is working on a grocery store and community center.
To support the effort, a black woman who requested anonymity purchased a building at 238 Carlton St. for $44,000 and donated it to the effort. The Buffalo Bills Foundation provided $50,000 to fund education and start-up costs. About $3 million remains to be raised before the African Heritage Food Co-op has a chance to become a reality.
Throughout Covid-19, Wright’s organization focused on delivering food to people in lockdown and people who couldn’t get to stores. If he can find funding, the plan is that of a grocery store serving the daily needs of customers who stop in and others who need to have their groceries delivered.
“Since the start of the co-op, we’ve delivered for free to anyone over 55 and anyone with a physical disability, and we don’t plan to stop doing that,” Wright said. “But you add to that people who just have PTSD from even going to a grocery store now.”
The plan is for the Carlton Street building to have a community space upstairs, with wifi, for meetings or kids doing their homework after school. On-site daycare for workers is also part of the plan. Businesses will have the opportunity to set up tables and seek support, Wright said.
If it flourishes, the effort could create jobs for about 60 people, including drivers and the grounds maintenance crew, Wright said.
The business plan calls for an investment of $2 million in construction and equipment and another $1 million to launch the business and fund its start-up.
The way World Central Kitchen has mobilized in Buffalo shows how the organization quickly taps into a network of employees and volunteers to find people in a community who can help and put them to work providing meals to people in the need.
Coppertown Block Club President Gail Wells has worked with Seedling Resilience, a community-led coalition that seeks to strengthen the local food system in response to Covid-19, to help people understand how to grow vegetables in their homes. garden. In 2020, his group helped 50 Buffalo households start raised or container gardens, subsidizing material costs so it didn’t cost homeowners. In 2021, this has helped another 34 people start working for food sovereignty, growing their own food.
“I have over 600 names of people who live in the most desperate and food insecure places in the city. It includes the Lower West Side and basically all of the East Side except for 14214,” Wells said.
If given, say, an extra $50,000 to work with, the group could help 50 more families start gardens, planting the seeds to help them achieve food security. Its all-volunteer crew works with what they can get, Wells said.
“Now there’s a shortage of soil and compost, so my costs keep going up,” she said. “But if I had what I really needed, which was a truck and some of the other things that would allow me to do the deliveries, it’s not so dependent on who is available this weekend.
These three examples are far from the only ongoing efforts. The East Side has “people who have been working on things for a very long time,” Raja said.
They might not be able to replicate the convenience or size of a grocery store, but they might end up doing something more important: building community.
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