Undercover at Walmart

Making Change at Walmart • March 7, 2012

“What’s it like to work at Walmart?”

I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked this question. At first, my working-class roots got the better of me. I’d smile icily to whatever well-intentioned person had asked the question, and ask earnestly, “Have you ever had a crummy job? It’s like that.

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9 Things You’ve Never Heard About America’s Food

The Huffington Post • Feb. 24, 2012

Three years ago, I went to work undercover in America’s food system. To the extent that I was motivated by journalistic intrigue, I wanted to see how the country’s vast industrial food system worked. But more than that, I had a bone to pick with foodies.

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Food access: It’s complicated.

As prep for a forthcoming review I have of Mary Mazzio’s lovely documentary on New York City’s Green Carts, The Apple Pushers,  I’m finding I need a one-stop link to studies that complicate our understanding of food access. Herewith: The Institute of Medicine held a symposium on the topic in 2009. Most notably, they found … Read more

Dirty South: Youth farms keep New Orleans teens in school gardens

Grist • Dec. 16, 2011

Smack in the middle of a half-dozen shipping containers and striding up a mound of gravel, Johanna Gilligan, 31, can’t contain her excitement. “This looks so awesome!” She nods her head at an alcove between two containers, painted the pale color of new celery, with dry sinks attached. “That’s going to be for processing.”

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An Urban Farming Pioneer Sows His Own Legacy

Photo by Ozier Muhammad

New York Times • May 18, 2010

John Ameroso didn’t hoe the rows of vegetables that help feed the Bronx at the Padre Plaza Success Garden in the borough’s Mott Haven section. He didn’t pick any tomatoes from the vines at the Brooklyn Rescue Mission’s farm. And he didn’t turn the composting bins that kept East New York Farms! fertile ground for collards, cilantro and chard.

But he’s responsible for all of it, along with the rest of more than 18 tons of produce grown in city lots for market last year.

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Beets in the Hood

Mother Jones • March/April 2009

Forget organic and locally grown food—in America’s poorest urban neighborhoods, it’s hard to find any affordable fruits and vegetables at all. Six grocery stores serve South Los Angeles’ population of 688,000. West Oakland has no supermarkets but close to 60 liquor store. But thanks to former NBA draft pick Will Allen, a couple of American cities are experiencing a produce renaissance.

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The Saveur 100: Item 3. Garden Cities

Saveur • February 2009

The distance from farm to table in American cities is getting shorter. In parks, in vacant lots and even on the grounds of abandoned factories, urban gardens and farms are growing better food than their commercial counterparts and bringing fresh produce to lower-income neighborhoods where markets are often scarce. In Milwaukee, for instance, an organization called Growing Power, established in 1993 but the former pro basketball player Will Allen created a two-acre urban farm whose organic produce is as popular with the community as it is with the city’s chefs. (Allen was awarded a MacArthur “genius grant” for his efforts in 2008.) In Detroit, the Garden Resource Program has turned vacant lots into over 100 gardens, where local residents grow spinach, garlic and more. Farms are also popping up in cities where cheap real estate is scarce. In Brooklyn, New York, the Red Hook Community Farm supplies a Community Supported Agriculture club from its three acres, and in Boston, the Food Project has encouraged official to incorporate food gardens into community development plans. The dividend for these urban communities? Better access to fresh food, and a sure path to delicious meals.

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The Gourmet Q & A: Joshua Viertel

Gourmet.com • Nov. 21, 2008

By the time Joshua Viertel took the helm of Slow Food USA this fall, the 30-year old already had a quiet reputation for mixing a refined palate with grassroots sensibilities. The former farmer’s résumé would make most recruiters pause: There are stints in Sicilian sheep pastures, hurricane-ravaged towns in Honduras, and small New England farms; a philosophy degree and protester bona fides from Harvard; and a job history that includes a reference from Alice Waters. If it seems like a no-brainer to hand the reins of the country’s most prominent food-culture group to this man, some of Viertel’s other passions—grassroots organizing and social justice—suggest where the next generation of American foodies may be headed. Writer Tracie McMillan spoke with Viertel, fresh from Slow Food International’s Terra Madre conference in Italy, to talk about founding Yale’s landmark farming initiative, whether we should be paying more for our food, and finding inspiration in a bodega.

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Urban Farms

Contribute • June 2008

For years, urban dwellers have tinkered with window-box and roof-deck gardens, toiling to transform small patches of empty land behind brownstones and beneath skyscrapers into bounty.

But now, there’s something bigger growing out of those neighborhood plots. More and more people—and most notably, nonprofit health advocates—are creating urban farms to promote healthier and less expensive local alternatives to corporate processed foods.

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Urban Farmers’ Crops Go From Vacant Lot to Market

New York Times • May 7, 2008

In the shadows of the elevated tracks toward the end of the No. 3 line in East New York, Brooklyn, with an April chill still in the air, Denniston and Marlene Wilks gently pulled clusters of slender green shoots from the earth, revealing a blush of tiny red shallots at the base.

“Dennis used to keep them big, and people didn’t buy them,” Mrs. Wilks said. “They love to buy scallions.”

Growing up in rural Jamaica, the Wilkses helped their families raise crops like sugar cane, coffee and yams, and take them to market. Now, in Brooklyn, they are farmers once again, catering to their neighbors’ tastes: for scallions, for bitter melons like those from the West Indies and East Asia and for cilantro for Latin-American dinner tables.

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