Through the recently launched Dudley Real Food Hub, the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE), and The Food Project have been working alongside residents, gardeners, and food businesses to grow and strengthen Dudley’s community food economy. Anchored by a 10,000 square foot greenhouse owned by DSNI’s land trust and operated by the Food Project through a 99 year lease, the Dudley Real Food Hub builds on years of collaborative food systems work. The greenhouse provides production space for The Food Project’s community markets and ACE’s youth-led Grow or Die campaign that builds raised-bed gardens on vacant lots throughout neighborhood. It also provides fresh food and growing space for Dudley residents.
This past summer, led by DSNI youth, the Dudley Real Food Hub launched a community food planning process, engaging residents about their food priorities to inform a community food action plan. This process built upon foundational research by the 2014 Practical Visionaries Field Project Team, which included Kim Etingoff, Kasia Hart, Christine Madore, and Becca Tumposky. The project was advised by Penn Loh, and done in collaboration with ACE and DSNI, two long-term members of the Practical Visionaries Workshop Steering Committee. To help guide the development of the Dudley Real Food Hub’s community food planning process, the 2014 field project team developed tools for a community food assessment, conducted case studies of food justice projects in low income communities of color, and offered a framework and design for the planning process.
Not a ‘Food Desert’
Although Dudley residents suffer disproportionately diet related diseases as compared to the rest of Boston, there is significant potential to build on the community’s existing food assets as part of a larger strategy to alleviate some of these disparities. The Dudley neighborhood is home to nearly 300 food-related businesses, including 25 convenience stores, 35 grocery stores, and 23 specialty food stores. The adjacent Newmarket Square neighborhood is home to many industrial food businesses which employ nearly three thousand people and generate approximately $1.5 million in revenue each year.
Residents throughout the Dudley Triangle are active food producers. The 2013 Practical Visionaries Workshop Team identified “65 homes with raised bed, in-ground, and potted gardens, some over 40 years old, and conservatively estimate the total area under production to be about 1/5 of an acre, growing over 50 types of vegetables and fruit, and yielding over two tons of produce (4400 pounds).”
Planning a Food Economy
How does a community in plan its food economy? To help inform the Dudley Real Food Hub and its planning process, the 2014 Practical Visionaries Field Project Team conducted six case studies of community food projects driven by low-income communities of color in U.S. cities, including Buffalo, New York; Detroit, Michigan; Holyoke, Massachusetts; Oakland and the East Bay Area, California; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
While we found tremendous diversity in approaches, there were several common themes and methods:
- Use of participatory research and engagement methods: Community food planning practitioners make frequent use of participatory qualitative research methods for data collection and analysis, and several of the cases studied model innovative participatory research and engagement methods.
- Importance of youth leadership and engagement: Community food planning can offer a democratic vehicle for young people to help determine the direction of their community. Strong youth programs have advanced many successes in food planning.
- Food as a vehicle for community development: Food system interventions can be used to advance broader goals such as public safety, cultural preservation, transportation, or community economic development.
- The importance of cross-sector collaboration: Given the breadth of sectors and institutions that shape local food systems and economies, developing strategic partnerships across these sectors is critical.
- The value of both ‘professional’ and community knowledge: Community food planning and systems change demands both grassroots and technical expertise. While outside experts can play useful roles, much of the necessary technical expertise and resources already exist within communities.
- Building upon existing community assets: Leveraging existing community resources, events, and programs can often be more beneficial than creating independent food planning activities.
- Planning and implementation can (and should) occur simultaneously: Implementation of short-term goals can help build momentum during the food planning process, and help engage residents in implementation from the beginning.
- Engagement in the local policy arena: Food and land use policy arenas such as food security or policy councils can bolster grassroots efforts and minimize political barriers to local food systems change.
Finally, the team developed a proposal and recommendations for a community food planning process, based on tools and lessons from these case studies, and guided by a framework from the Interaction Institute for Social Change.
The Planning Process Proposal consists of five phases: Process Design, Defining the Problem, Visioning, Creating the Community Action Plan, and Implementation. Although the phases are presented linearly, they can happen concurrently and feed off of one other. The proposal is meant to lead into a process that allows the Dudley community to determine what needs to change in their food system, how it needs to change, and what a healthy and just food system could look like.
The Dudley Real Food Hub has formed a steering committee consisting of residents, youth, community organizations, food businesses, and food growers, and has already engaged hundreds of residents in developing the community food action plan. Building on both their own research and data, as well as that produced by the 2013 and 2014 Practical Visionaries Workshop teams, they plan to launch their action plan in 2015, building toward short, medium, and long-term projects, programs, and strategies to grow the Dudley community food economy.
 Data compiled through Reference USA