Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Organic at the bodega

There's a really interesting article in today's Salon (you have to do the day pass thing to read it) about programs designed to bring fresh produce into inner cities. It's a hard battle, but there's some progress showing.

The farmers' market I go to with the most regularity is the tiny, two-stall one in Mission Hill, just down the block from my office. Although most of the people that use the market seem to be employees of the hospitals around the corner, many shoppers do seem to be local residents, some of whom pay with food stamps. Although some of the items (tomatoes, fruit) are more expensive than their grocery-store equivalents, the big bunches of greens, beets, squash and so on are very reasonably priced and provide a lot of nutrition to the dollar.

My mother works for a food pantry at her church that receives donated fresh produce from a local farm. Unfortunately, a lot of it goes to waste. It's not that people won't take fresh vegetables; it's that they won't take fresh vegetables they don't know how to cook. Many of the people who use the pantry are from South America or the Carribean. The farmer is Italian. The fashionable arugula and fennel he grows for his upscale clientele are completely foreign to the people at the pantry (and to my Irish mother for that matter, who calls me with questions: I've got this thing that has long frilly leave attached to a white stalk that kind of bulges at the bottom like a garlic, but flat - what do I do with it?). The cultural disconnects are as problematic as the logistics. But both can be overcome.


michelle said...

The inner city article is neat, and seems like such an important thing to work towards. It's too bad that so much produce goes to waste at the pantry your mother works for. Our CSA always gave us a list of what everything was, with descriptions of how it could be used and what it tasted like...I wonder if something like that would help some? I love the name and philosophy of your blog!

The Jeff Next Door said...

The food cooperative I belong to gives their wilted produce -- bruised, or a little less fresh, but still quite edible -- to the local soup kitchen. Maybe your mother's pantry could team up with a soup kitchen to help people learn how to cook with these unfamiliar ingredients? I'm envisioning something where pantry clients meet at the soup kitchen and help prepare the meal, while getting a cooking lesson.