Can you imagine a school district where every school has its own on-site garden that’s integrated into the curriculum, and where every school cafeteria has a salad bar featuring locally-grown produce?
Can you imagine a year-round farmers market or local food store that not only offers locally-grown fruits and veggies, and locally-raised meats, but also makes them accessible to all by being EBT/SNAP-ready and ensures the whole community knows about it?
Can you imagine a town where residents are encouraged to grow food and build compost in their yard and raise their own chickens for eggs?
Can you imagine a place where young people are eager to get their first job on a farm or at a healthy food grocery store, and envision future career options as restaurateurs and farmers?
Can you imagine a community that has, not only dramatically reduced hunger rates, but also lower obesity and heart disease rates, from implementing innovative and low-cost initiatives that give people more nutritious and affordable food options?
Can you imagine all of this happening in Ferguson?
We can. Which is why we’ve undertaken the task of conducting a Community Food Assessment (CFA) of our town. Last year, the USDA awarded us with a Community Food Projects planning grant so that we could dig in and start to do the foundational work of better understanding our community’s facilitators and barriers when it comes to food. Our aim is to make Ferguson a better place to eat. In order to do so, we are looking at the major points along the “food cycle” – production, processing, distribution (via sale or donation), consumption, and waste management. Equally important, is viewing these points through the lenses of access, education, and ownership. We want to answer such questions as:
• What unique and compelling attributes does Ferguson already have when it comes to food?
• What economic development opportunities exist in Ferguson, specifically related to food production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste? • How does racial justice impact food justice in Ferguson?
• How is employment, especially for young people, influenced by Ferguson’s food system?
• How can regulations, including planning and zoning code, encourage a healthy food system?
• What are the top 5 food products in demand in Ferguson that currently aren’t being produced locally, but could be?
These are just a few of the guiding questions we used to create the stakeholder and public engagement process that will generate the most useful data, maps, and metrics for us to analyze. And while this research relies on having great data, which is translated to valuable information, we are also keenly aware of the importance of the process and the people participating!
We are very fortunate that this large undertaking of a project caught the attention of Jessica Perkins, Co-founder and former Co-owner of Vector Communications, as she was preparing for her next career move. She has generously been leading our CFA process with 18+ years of experience in public engagement and community planning behind her. With Jessica’s guidance, we have convened an insightful Advisory Committee comprised of residents, public officials, farmers, business leaders and representatives from area organizations like Urban League, MU Extension, the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and the St. Louis Food Policy Council. These committee members help us ensure that we’re asking the right questions and getting the word out to every corner of Ferguson.
Our Community Food Assessment team also includes some stellar part-time staff and interns: Jake Smith (’13), Tru Campbell, and Abigail Dunbar, who are working on collecting data, doing outreach in the community, and creating layered GIS maps with meaningful information.
And last, but not at all least, an integral part of this process is giving significant ownership to the young people we work with five times/week in the summer months – our Junior Farm Crew (JFC). From conducting vendor and customer surveys at the Ferguson Farmers Market, to brainstorming ideas for increasing traffic at the Farmers Market to doing grocery store audits throughout Ferguson, this group is becoming well-versed in the process of data-driven community change. We began our summer by creating a food map of Ferguson based on where the JFC members were already aware of food production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste management happening. More recently, they’ve been investigating the availability of 80+ basic grocery store items, including whether or not there were organic or locally-produced versions available, at Ferguson-area food stores using a ‘grocery store audit’ tool. By engaging some of the youngest EarthDance team members in the Community Food Assessment, we’re hoping to inspire new ways of thinking about our community and how we can make it a better place to eat – for everyone.
If you live in Ferguson, and would like to take our 15-minute online household survey, we’d love to get your input! The first 200 Ferguson residents to complete the survey will receive $5 in market bucks to spend at the Ferguson Farmers Market this year!
The question you might have for us is: “What will you do with the assessment results?” We will be writing these up in a report, sharing our findings with everyone interested at a community potluck on Saturday, September 17th, and asking our Junior Farm Crew, staff, Board, and Advisory Committee members, “Now that we know this, what is most important for us to work on next?”
Rooted in Ferguson,