Friday, September 30, 2011

Keep up the press coverage- submit an op-ed piece!

Check out the latest Northwest Current, Sept. 28, 2011! There's a front page article, "Car barn landmark request stalls work at Walmart site," and a Viewpoint article, "Walmart wrong solution for food desert."

It'd be great to keep up this press coverage if folks continue submitting letters to the editor and op-ed pieces to local papers. It's pretty simple and doesn't take much work.
To help folks along, here are the submission guidelines for a few papers.

The Northwest Current- Letter to the Editor: 450 words limit
- Viewpoint pieces: 750 words limit
Submit to Chris Kain:

Washington Post- Op-Ed: 800 words limit
Submit online:

City Paper- Accepts freelance articles.
Guidelines for submissions:

And a sample Viewpoint article from the Northwest Current:

Walmart is wrong solution for 'food desert'
Walmart proclaims itself the salvation of urban “food deserts,” saying it is able to provide healthy and affordable food in a comprehensive one-stop shopping site. It is targeting East New York in New York City and four wards in D.C., claiming these “food deserts” can benefit by Walmart’s presence.

What does it mean to live in a “food desert”? I had to step back and think about what a real desert means.

The Free Dictionary defines deserts as a “barren or desolate area, especially … a dry, often sandy region of little rainfall, extreme temperatures, and sparse vegetation.”

I’ve driven through deserts, and their immensity is impressive and the sense of lack oppressive. Until one hits an oasis. I visited an oasis that supported a date plantation when I traveled in the United Arab Emirates. There were more than 42 different varieties of palm dates. Before their wealth came from oil, the country’s natives cultivated these dates naturally found in the oasis and traded them.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, we apply the term “food desert” to urban or rural areas with limited access to a supermarket or large grocery store, whether due to availability of the stores or limited means of transportation.

Walmart claims the four D.C. wards it is targeting fall under the label “food desert” even though none of them appears in a recent Food Desert Locator published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

I was surprised to see that East New York also did not appear in this locator. I am personally interested in East New York. I spent long days and nights organizing around the neighborhood with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, encountering its cracked sidewalks, crack houses and equally fractured families. This neighborhood on the edge of Brooklyn has suffered from high crime rates for many years, and more than half of its residents live below the poverty line. East New York is a “desert” in many significant ways.

I contacted Shelly Ver Ploeng, the economist who developed the Agriculture Department’s Food Desert Locator, to ask her to explain the methodology. She replied that the agency’s definition had two criteria: first, a high poverty rate or relatively low median income; and second, a significant number of residents living more than one mile away from a supermarket. When pressed further, Ver Ploeng explained, “The term ‘food desert’ is not one that has been standardized or measured consistently over time, so there is a lot of room for different definitions and takes on the issue.”

Which is why in other studies, East New York and D.C.’s wards 4 and 7 qualify as a food deserts. In East New York, the closest food option tends to have poorly stocked produce sections. Ward 7 has one of the District’s highest poverty rates and only four full-service grocery stores. For Ward 4, there are only two full-service supermarkets for a population of more than 74,000. Access to these stores may be difficult if one does not have a car or does not live along the main arteries in order to use public transportation.

If D.C. is to accept Walmart’s premise that these four wards are food deserts, then has D.C. considered looking at what the “oasis” in each ward could provide?

For D.C.’s Ward 4, why not consider an Essex Street/Eastern Market model for the car barn where local shops can sell affordable produce and offer retail space for other items? Essex Street Market in New York City was introduced for that reason, to counter the reality of a food desert in the Lower East Side. It houses small grocers that carry fresh and affordable produce.

Better yet, why not ask each of the wards what residents there want to enhance their community and address the shortage of good food and jobs in their communities?

D.C. tends to follow, not lead, when it comes to trends. It leaves innovation and creativity to occur in other cities, and jumps on board when it proves popular. Could the District, for once, be an innovator and not a follower of trends (the invasion of urban markets by big-box stores) by nurturing these locally produced “dates” and creating something D.C. can call its own?

Mo-Yain Tham is a resident of Ward 4.

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