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.Continue reading “Undercover at Walmart”

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.


  • The Institute of Medicine held a symposium on the topic in 2009. Most notably, they found that the only direct nutritional link to obesity was overconsumption of sweetened beverages, aka soda; limited access to fresh food was not direclty correlated with obesity.
  • A 2006 report from Mari Gallagher consulting group, analyzing food access and health outcomes in Chicago, suggested that food balance—i..e not overwhelming healhty food options with unhealthy ones—is as, or more, important than food access.
  • A 2009 USDA report found that easy access to all kinds of food, rather than limited access to healthy foods, was more closely related to rises in obesity.

There’s also the recent survey of 1,500 low-income families by advocacy and service group Cooking Matters, which found that:

most low-income families are satisfied with the availability of good food…The greater obstacles to healthy meals are planning skills, time and, yes, price.

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.” Continue reading “Dirty South: Youth farms keep New Orleans teens in school gardens”

An Urban Farming Pioneer Sows His Own Legacy

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. Continue reading “An Urban Farming Pioneer Sows His Own Legacy”

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.

Continue reading “Beets in the Hood”

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.

Continue reading “The Saveur 100: Item 3. Garden Cities”

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.

Continue reading “The Gourmet Q & A: Joshua Viertel”

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. Continue reading “Urban Farms”

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. Continue reading “Urban Farmers’ Crops Go From Vacant Lot to Market”