Archive for October, 2016

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Connecting the Dots & Food Justice Pt.2: Addressing Barriers to Healthy Food

Last time , I talked about my time in the Capital Region of New York State working on food justice and access. The biggest takeaway of my experience, which permeates my work with Nspiregreen, was the need to help people connect the dots. In this part, I’ll talk about the challenge of healthy eating and cooking. Many people that I encountered thought that healthy food was bland or tasted like dirt (looking at you, radishes!!), was expensive to buy, and complicated to make. The thing is, I don’t disagree, healthy food can be all of these things but it doesn’t have to be.

One of my favorite experiences was serving as the mobile produce market assistant coordinator for the Veggie Mobile. The market provides affordable fresh fruits and vegetables to areas where there are no grocery stores or resources to get fresh foods, a.k.a. food deserts. During my tenure, I happened to observe the buying habits of our customers as we visited the food deserts of NY State’s Capital Region.

The older generations would generally go for cooking vegetables like sweet potatoes, beets, collard greens, carrots, onions, potatoes, and turnips. I could talk with these patrons for hours about recipes and preparation methods for the produce we sold. The younger shoppers, however, would mostly go for fruit like apples, pears, grapes, bananas, etc., because they were ready to eat and sweet. Some young people they would tell us that they were picking up the cooking vegetables for their parents or grandparents to prepare and would ask for recommendations.

It became obvious that there were barriers, more than just providing the produce, that were keeping younger generations from learning about fruits and vegetables as well as their preparation. Maybe it was a lack of interest, education and cooking skills, or time in our faster-paced society, other obligations, barriers to accessing preparation equipment, or our American taste palettes trained on overly processed, fast foods. Whatever the reason, I did my best in creating the recipes for the “taste and take” for something that could be replicated with minimal investment with maximum deliciousness. But the Veggie Mobile is just in the Capital Region of NY, and while there are similar projects around the country, they only address these issues in a small area.

As a planner, we need to also think broad-scale, system wide. How can this be fixed? What can we do to reconnect people to cooking skills and healthy eating? The answer? Education, policy and programs, and planning. Here are some things planners and municipalities can do:

EDUCATION:

  1. Bring back Home Economics: Did you have a home economics class as a kid in middle school or high school? These courses are often first to get cut when school budgets are strained, but they can be designed to reinforce other subjects like mathematics (reducing or multiplying recipes), science (biology and botany if you have a school garden or physics with cooking), art (sewing and cooking presentation or plating), writing skills and reading comprehension (reading or creating recipes). But they also provide crucial life skills for generations to be self- sufficient. No calling mom to sew on a button for you! And to my two main points, home ec can teach the life cycle of plants from seed to vegetable to plate.
  2. Utilize Parks and Recreation Programming: Parks departments can hold educational classes or community mentors for gardening lessons, cooking classes, meal planning, and nutrition classes that help build resident capacity and knowledge base.
  3. Start them young: Teachers can hold cooking classes for younger children to get them used to eating fruits and vegetables. Field trips to farms can be educational ways of showing where foods come from, how they grow, and how they make it to our plates.
  4. Reach out to communities in food deserts. Let them know these classes and opportunities are happening. Don’t skimp on this part!

 

POLICY and PROGRAMS:

  1. Include food access and security into comprehensive planning!! Similar to land use and other evaluations, we can assess neighborhood access and food security and utilize the comprehensive planning process to get the ball rolling to address these issues.
  2. Zoning Codes can be used to enact policies that implement edible landscapes in parks, encourage grocery store development in food deserts, set aside vacant land for community gardens, etc.
  3. Community Garden programs can be sponsored by a municipal parks department. These programs can potentially (after soil tests and/or remediation techniques) use city-owned, vacant urban land used as pocket gardens for growing food.
  4. Healthy corner store initiatives and small business grants can be employed to enable corner stores to sell produce. Grants assist in buying refrigeration equipment and trainings for business owners
  5. School Districts can support local food systems by developing policies for partnering with local farms, which in turn support those local businesses and protect agricultural lands
  6. Partnering of markets with community healthcare centers to help with education and outreach to people facing diseases like obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. For example: the Veggie Mobile partnered with a local community health care center with sponsorship from a proactive insurance provider to subsidize a coupon program. The doctors would distribute weekly coupons to patients that they could use like cash on the veggie mobile. Farmers markets could set up a similar program in areas of high need.

Christine E. Mayeur is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and interests. She has been called a “renaissance woman” by her coworkers and is interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grass-roots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems that meet the needs of all users. 

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Cultivating a Relationship with your Mentor

In my last post, I shared different resources for finding a mentor. The next step is cultivating a relationship.  If you find your mentor through a mentor-mentee program, the initial conversation can be easier. Some programs have set discussion topics or may do an e-introduction. Regardless of how you meet your mentor, most of the time it’s on you, the mentee, to start the relationship.

  1. Introduce yourself: My recommendation is keep the introduction to a short and sweet email stating how you got their contact information, who you are, why you are reaching out, and request a meeting. You can include a resume to provide additional details. Mention any commonalities like alma maters or group affiliations, but keep it concise. When requesting a meeting be specific about how long you want to meet, whether you would like to be in person or via phone, and a timeframe of the meeting. [Author’s note: I’m writing from the perspective of someone who doesn’t like reading long emails. The longer the email and the vaguer the ask, the longer it takes me to reply. Everyone is different.]

Example:

Dear Ms. Where I. Want-to-Be,

My friend, Jane Q. Boss, recommended I reach out to you about career opportunities in transportation planning. I’m currently a dog park planner at ABC Planning Company. My resume is attached. I’d like to take you to coffee to discuss how I can transition into transportation planning. Do you have availability the week of October 10th or 17th for a mid-morning coffee meeting near your office?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Fabulous N. Training

P.S. I’m a fellow Terp!

  1. Respond to their email: Since you kept your message concise and included a meeting request for a specific time period, the person is likely to respond with a date (possible dates) when they are available. Your next step is to respond within a business day to confirm the date works with your schedule. I have had people do a great job of introducing themselves, but the relationship never gets going because they do not respond to my email in a timely manner (over a week later) or not at all.
  1. Meet: Now it’s time for your initial meeting. Since you reached out to the person, you’ve already done some homework and know the basics of where they went to school and places they have worked (LinkedIN and Google are your friend!). Spend a few minutes of the conversation getting to know more about them and sharing more about who you are. You’ll want to have questions prepared that get to the heart of why you want to meet with them. Remember, you’re asking them for their wise council, so use your time with them wisely. If there’s a connection, ask them if it’s okay if you reach out to them periodically with questions AND what is the best way to keep in touch.
  1. Send a thank you/follow up: Within a day or two follow up with a thank you email or if you really want to impress them send a handwritten thank you note (I can remember every single person that sent me a handwritten thank you note. Emails not so much). Thank them for the time and advice. If your mentor offered to help you with something or your promised to send something, now is the time to follow up. For example, if they offer to look at your resume, email them a copy.
  1. Keep in contact: As I mentioned in my previous post, each mentor-mentee relationship will look different. After your initial meeting, you all may only talk again once or twice. However, it’s possible that you have a great relationship and meet regularly (every other month, quarterly, semi-annually). Schedules aside, in general, the frequency of your meetings will depend on how much you keep in contact with your mentor. Keeping in touch could be sending a quick email about an article you think may interest them or a paper you wrote, replying to their social media posts, inviting them to an event to speak or be an attendee, or meeting them for coffee.

These five steps are suggestions based on what has worked for me and my mentees. Why five? I could’ve written more, but I prefer numbers divisible by five (we all have our quirks). After writing this post, I realized I never addressed WHY you should have a mentor. I guess I’ll be writing another post soon!

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

 





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