Arcadia – Equitable Food Access in D.C.

Despite the one small(ish) snowfall of the year, the VALOR class had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Pamela Hess about the work she’s doing with Arcadia Food, a nonprofit organization focused on creating a more equitable and sustainable local food system in Washington, D.C.  Video conferences are an intrinsically tough way to have a good conversation, but Pam made it happen with energy to spare.

Arcadia takes on the hefty challenge of helping to create an equitable, sustainable local food system in and around the urban environment of D.C.  They approach this challenge from a variety of thoughtful directions, each of which create an important link to the larger chain.  Pam walked us thought their varied approaches, and why they believe a true different can be made with local food.

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First, they operate Arcadia Farm, which acts as a learning board for students and members of the community, in terms of showing them the skill of farming, as well as the importance of healthy eating, a healthy environment, and local foods.  Arcadia Farm strives to engage the community in the act of growing food, an act which is disintegrating more and more each day.  Their approach here is quite pragmatic – train a workforce of skilled farmers to help produce the food needed to sustain an urban community.  This may sound simple, but with the current lack of desire and inspiration amongst the youth in the agricultural workforce, filling the role of future farmers is proving to be quite difficult throughout the country, not to mention amongst a population not already accustomed to farming.

Second, they operate a mobile market, providing local foods specifically to underprivileged areas in D.C.  This, Pamela told us, was crucially important – the local food movement is not truly sustainable if it is not feeding those who need the nutrition the most, and if it does not operate within a model that provides affordable nutrition.  Arcadia is not providing food for the “suburban” farmer’s market crowd – they sell their food in low-income urban areas, areas often described as being “food deserts” due to the lack of healthy options.

Next, Arcadia is working to establish a food hub, which acts as a central point for organizing the distribution of local foods to areas that need them the most.  This is not yet up and running, but will help coordinate the movement of food, so that both farmers and consumers have easier access to each other.

And, finally, the Farm to School program, which illustrates the important of healthy eating and healthy farming to schoolchildren, in hopes of illustrating the importance of farming, providing healthy school meals, and engaging the community.  This community-building program was a general theme to our entire trip to D.C. – the need to educate the general population about why nutritious, locally grown food is important to everyone.  Work with this focus is taking place across the country, and it will be exciting to see where it leads our national trends in eating and farming.

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Photos of a videoconference aren’t all that exciting, so these photos are courtesy of the Arcadia Food website

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