For a community to flourish, it is critical that healthy eating habits are deeply rooted in the culture.
This can best be achieved by establishing local food sources that are affordable and accessible.
Hunger and malnutrition are problems that plague communities throughout New York City. But in Bed-Stuy, these issues are particularly serious.
According to the NYC Department of Health, in Central Brooklyn’s neighborhoods – Bed-Stuy among them – around 30 percent of the population is obese, one of the highest rates of adult obesity in New York City. Diabetes, also related to poor eating habits, is prevalent in these same neighborhoods.
First Lady Michelle Obama’s new initiative, ChooseMyPlate, has re-done the old “food pyramid,” according to recent dietary recommendations that tell us to eat more vegetables and fruits. It’s also presented in a plate, rather than a pyramid, to seem more relevant to daily life.
The new MyPlate icon can be used in educational programs, as one preschool teacher has done by creating a lesson plan using Michelle Obama’s plate recommendations. Also, there’s a great free, printable, one-page guide to eating according to the MyPlate icon, made by a blogger who’s passionate about healthy eating.
Brooklyn-based anti-hunger activist and author Joel Berg is a fan of the new MyPlate icon, but he feels it will not solve the real problem of obesity.
“In general I think the MyPlate icon is an advance,” said Berg. “But, as a solution to widespread obesity in this country - absolutely not.”
Berg explained that affordability of food, not information about nutrition, is the key to creating a healthier American diet.
There are various ways to eat healthy and affordably in our neighborhood. For example, the Bed-Stuy Farm Share program allows you to become a member either in late winter or early spring, and for your annual fee you get convenient access to local produce, meat, and eggs.
And community gardens are also great resources for healthy eating. You can sign up to join and, if there’s a plot available, you can start growing your own food right away.
Vinny Olsen and Masha Radzinsky set up Bushwick City Farms on an illegal dump site at the intersection of Broadway and Myrtle Avenues. Unlike most community gardens, which offer memberships on a limited basis and require annual fees, this farm is open to anyone. And not only that, but the community plays an active role in the daily activities at the farm.
Using almost exclusively repurposed castaway materials, Masha and Vinny worked side-by-side with locals over the course of three years to build a chicken coup, composting bin, and vegetable bed.
“It’s more eco-friendly and environmentally responsible to use recycled materials,” explained Masha. The only items Bushwick City Farms requires money for are soil and chicken feed – and their revenue comes solely from individual donations or community fundraisers.
Currently, they have a campaign on the environmental site ioby to raise money for a new farm site in Bed-Stuy.
In their mission to be a true community farm, Masha and Vinny offer various educational programs: free English classes, Sunday giveaways of food and clothing, kids’ programs, and an ongoing workshop series that educates locals on composting and gardening.
A community that eats healthy and locally can better sustain itself, and programs like the Bed-Stuy Farm Share and the Bushwick City Farm are doing their part to lower the cost of food and educate their communities about how to be better environmental citizens.