MS. REBECCA SHEIR
While we're on the subject of getting around town in the name of food, here in the district we have more than a few neighborhoods where you'd be hard-pressed to find a way to get fresh fruit and vegetables, or in some cases, you'd be hard-pressed just to find a grocery store. But as Marc Adams reports, a local non-profit is hoping to create a sort of food caravan to cross these food deserts and bring fresh food directly to the people.
MS. JANA BALDWIN
Canned corn, canned peaches, my favorite is canned green beans. This one actually is the no-salt added, mostly because I've eaten all the ones with the salt.
MR. MARC ADAMS
Jana Baldwin's kitchen is stuffed with canned foods and frozen vegetables she bought with her food stamps. They're the only things that will keep. Besides a few apples in the fridge, there is hardly any fresh produce to be seen.
I will just eat whatever it is that I have in the house so if that's just, you know, canned beans and a hot dog, that's fine. I mean, I'm not starving, but it would be better to have, you know, all of the food groups that are necessary to be more healthy.
And why doesn't this LeDroit Park resident just go down to the local grocery store?
There's none, zero, nothing in LeDroit Park proper.
Baldwin lives in one of the district's food deserts defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a neighborhood more than a mile away from a large grocery store.
MS. ALEXANDRA ASHBROOK
In D.C., it's a very big issue.
Alexandra Ashbrook, director of the non-profit organization D.C. Hunger Solutions, works to find local answers to a national problem. She says residents in food deserts have too little access to healthy food and all too much access to things like chips and soda.
When people don't have access to healthy food such as fruits and vegetables, which are typical needs in a food desert you can see spikes in dire-related illnesses such as diabetes, heart-related disease, nutrition-fueled cancers and obesity.
But supporters of local agriculture say that doesn't have to be a community's fate. Here in Southwest D.C., live jazz entertains shoppers at the launch of a new farmer's market.
You've got two different kinds, so this is your more sort of traditional kale. It's delicious.
It's an event put on by Arcadia Foods, a small organization that works to bring fresh produce from fields of local farms to the dinner plates of D.C. residents. The founder, Mike Babin now has his sights set on the food deserts of D.C. by putting farmers' markets like this one on wheels.
MR. MIKE BABIN
We've got a bus and we're calling it a mobile market that is going to be outfitted as a farmer's market. It's going to roll into these communities and set up shop for one day a week to just provide that food to those communities.
The bus isn't much to look at, just your average yellow school bus. But Babin has plans to retrofit it soon to carry some 50 crates of fresh produce like lettuce, kale, carrots and asparagus.
All right, let me get the door here.
And it won't just carry vegetables. The plan is to also make the bus run on them, vegetable oil that is, with a blend of diesel. You could call it a very green, yellow school bus.
It's great to have this kind of a vehicle rolling around town bringing great local food into communities that need it.
Babin is hoping to sell the food at a reduced price by securing grants and donations. But with many people already accustomed to the packaged and canned good diets, there's no guarantee Babin's potential customers will bite. How confident are you that people will actually buy your product once this hits the road?
Yeah, well, I'm confident that they will eventually, but I'm realistic, I think. And we're realistic about whether that will happen immediately.
Babin says they hope to whip up interest by meeting with community leaders and making educational visits to schools. The first planned stop will be in Jana Baldwin's neighborhood of LeDroit Park in July where community leader Kenan Dunson says demand is high for fresh fruits and vegetables.
MR. KENAN DUNSON
I believe that there is an interest and that people, when shown what can come out of the ground and what can go on to their plate, will be interested and have been interested.
Just a block down the road, Baldwin is intrigued by the mobile market idea but still has a pinch of skepticism.
I think many communities may feel that it's only for a specific population and so it would have to definitely be marketed in a way that was inclusive to all communities.
Babin's plan is one of many that have cropped up to address food deserts in D.C., but most only serve as a short-term fix. Babin says getting grocery stores with affordable produce into more low-income neighborhoods is the ultimate goal. Until then, people like Baldwin will have to do anything they can to stock their kitchen with food.
You know, I've been grateful for the friends that have been able to give me a ride or what have you, but I mean, there are times when you just buck up and you just carry your groceries. I mean, that's what you do. I mean, you've got to eat.
And knowing others in her neighborhood are less well off, Baldwin counts herself as one of the lucky ones. I'm Marc Adams.
You can find pictures of the soon-to-be-green yellow school bus and a link to an interactive map of food deserts here and around the country on our website, metroconnection.org.
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