DC UrbanGreens Provides Healthy Produce to Underprivileged Communities

On a chilly Friday morning, Taboris Robinson walks into the grow room and checks the soil, room temperature, and makes sure that production is on track for the spring.

The motto for D.C. UrbanGreens is “feeding bodies, nourishing minds, and growing communities.” The Ward 7 organization is devoted to establishing a distribution system of healthy and prepared foods into underserved communities.

It not only combats food deserts but opens the door to new learning experiences including growing and distributing healthy produce. It also plays a vital role in creating sustainability for residents in the ward by employing residents of the surrounding communities.

Food deserts are geographic areas where people have limited access to healthy food. Washington, D.C. has a long history of economic divisions and disparities, which have resulted in the development of food deserts.

A study entitled “Closing the Grocery Store Gap in the Nation’s Capitol” states that one in seven D.C. households are struggling against hunger, with 14.5% of the residents being food insecure. D.C. Hunger Solutions estimates that 4.9% of that population suffers from very low food insecurity.

The majority of these residents are African American and live in Wards 7 and 8, which have the highest poverty rates in the city and a lack of full-service grocery stores.

D.C. Policy Center states that one of the necessary conditions for a food desert in our definition is that the median household income for the area is less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of four – about $44,995 in 2015.

The median household income in Ward 7 is just over the federal poverty line at $45,469, and median household income for Ward 8 falls below it at $32,967.

One of the main goals of DCUG is to create a distribution system of healthy and prepared foods into underserved communities.

Robinson stated, “we grow our vegetables organically and try to get them out to the community by doing our farm stands.” He notes how it accepts all government subsidized payments including Electronic Benefits Transfer and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Robinson notes how heavily Ward 7 and 8 depend on the farm stands that are hosted every Saturday. It provides four pounds of chemical-free vegetables for $20 a bag. “It’s hard for them to take a shopping cart on the bus and travel all the way down to Safeway. They get there and what they are looking for is not there because it is so many people shopping at one store,” says Robinson.

Ward 7 resident Maya Brown said, “my family eats out more than we cook at home because it’s convenient to purchase fast food than it is to purchase groceries. It all depends on what is placed in lower-income communities.”

“The thing is in a food desert it is almost a way of life the way our kids eat. You will see a carryout, a drug store, a liquor store, or a gas station before you even get to the Safeway,” says Robinson.

DCUG relies heavily on its community volunteers and workers. Robinson started as a volunteer, and it grew into something bigger than himself. He describes how when he first came he was merely trying to see where his mother spent most of her free time. DCUG quickly asked him to help build hoop houses for the organization, which is when he became immersed in the organization’s effort to lower the number of food deserts in Ward 7 and 8.

“The more I was here, the more I was not in the streets. It kind of helped me turn my life around. It got to a point where I actually started doing the planting and harvesting.” says Robinson.

Healthy food distribution is important to DCUG, but the most important aspect of this organization is the community. DCUG seeks to help various communities understand the importance of nutrition.

Community Liaison Leonard Watson acts as a bridge between the community and DCUG. He travels to ANC meetings and organizations presenting information on the continuous efforts of DCUG.

“The main thing is learning the importance of nutrition now. I am transferring the information that I learned to the community in workshops,” says Watson.

Watson notes that DCUG engages the youth through their farm to school program where it partners with different elementary schools. The farm to school program introduces healthy eating to students, which aligns with DCUG purpose to provide access to healthy food supplies and impact the community.

Robinson says that DCUG has many great things in store. “We are working on a mobile pop-up market that will go to different neighborhoods and apartment buildings itself and set up shop.” He wants everyone to know and understand that their work “doesn’t stop here.”