Archive for April, 2011

Secede from the Union over Farm Food? Maine Town Passes Landmark Local Food Ordinance

April 25, 2011

In March, Sedgwick, a small town on the coast of Maine, passed a “Local Food and Self-Governance Ordinance” that says that farmers selling directly from their farms to customers don’t need to be licensed or inspected by state and federal governments. The ordinance also exempts foods made in home kitchens from licensing and inspection.

Sedgwick farmer Bob St. George points out that “until the last couple generations, we didn’t need a special license or new facility each time we wanted to sell something to our neighbors. Small farmers and producers have been getting squeezed out in the name of food safety, yet it’s the industrial food that is causing food borne illness, not us.”

The ordinance is online (http://savingseeds.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/localfoodlocalrules-ordinance-template.pdf) to make it easy for other towns to follow Sedgwick’s example. However, one of the ordinance’s most interesting aspects is the declaration of (possible) independence:

The foundation for making and adoption of this law is the peoples’ fundamental and inalienable right to govern themselves, and thereby secure their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Any attempt to use other units and levels of government to preempt, amend, alter or overturn this Ordinance or parts of this Ordinance shall require the Town to hold public meetings that explore the adoption of other measures that expand local control and the ability of citizens to protect their fundamental and inalienable right to self-government. It is declared that those other measures may legitimately include the partial or complete separation of the Town from the other units and levels of government that attempt to preempt, amend, alter, or overturn this Ordinance.

Is selling food at a farm stand an inalienable right? It made me laugh at first, but here on Staten Island, it seems that neighbors aren’t allowed to sell, swap, or even give away their backyard produce except under of cover of night, over the back fence. That can’t be right. Bushels of figs, apples, and persimmons rot on the ground every fall while folks in the housing projects can’t afford an old peach in the local bodega.

Advertisements

The Unhealthy Neighborhood

April 25, 2011

A few years ago, it became obvious to food pantries and organizations like City Harvest that it wasn’t enough to just give food away.  They needed to give people healthy food. People in low-income neighborhoods have high levels of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, at least partly because they can’t afford fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Mobile Market at the Stapleton Houses in January 2011. Russian-speaking volunteer (and founder of Software Management News) Nicholas Zvegintzov faces the camera.

City Harvest now delivers hundreds of pound of free fruits and vegetables twice a month to Melrose in the Bronx; Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn; and Stapleton on Staten Island. They also promote good nutrition in local schools, do healthy cooking classes and demos, sponsor health screenings and outreach, and work with “Healthy Corner Stores” that agree to sell at least a dozen types of produce.

However, researchers seem to have found another wrinkle in what makes a neighborhood unhealthy. In the “The Poverty Clinic” (New Yorker, March 21, 2011), Paul Tough writes about the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study that assessed the health of patients enrolled in California’s Kaiser HMO between 1994 and 1998. At the same time as the researchers tracked health outcomes, they also surveyed their clients about ten adverse childhood experiences such as parental divorce, physical and sexual abuse, emotional neglect, and violence in their homes and schools.

The results were scary. The higher the ACE score, the worse the outcome. Compared to people with no history of ACEs, people with ACE scores of four or higher were twice as likely to smoke, to have been diagnosed with cancer, and to have heart disease. Even more scary: Patients with ACE scores of seven or higher who didn’t smoke, didn’t drink to excess, and weren’t overweight still had a risk for ischemic heart disease that was 360 percent higher than for patients with zero scores.

Not all researchers agree that traumatic childhood experiences and later poor health correlate as strongly as the studies seem to show, says Tough. However, it’s something to keep in mind when healthy-food advocates try to measure how their interventions affect the health of a child, a family, or a neighborhood.