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Connecting the Dots- Food Justice Part 1: Understanding Food Systems

 

In my former “life” in the Capital Region of New York, during graduate school and figuring out a career path, I was able to work in a passion of mine- food justice and access. I even wrote my graduate thesis on youth development and food justice so it was a joy to work in the field (pun very much intended). I had a few hats that I wore: urban agriculture project assistant director, garden volunteer and youth coordinator and trainer, mobile vegetable market assistant coordinator, nutrition educator, recipe developer and cook. Or in other words: growing, buying, slinging, cooking, and talking about healthy foods.

The biggest takeaways of my experience, that permeates my work with Nspiregreen, was the need for knowledgeable people that can relate to communities to connect the dots. In this case, it was connecting dots for people in terms of:

  1. Where their food came from and how it was grown OR how to grow it and
  2. Healthy food could be easy to make and could also be tasty

Many people I worked with and spoke to can think of plants growing in a field and understand the concept of farms, they can see produce for sale at a grocery store, and they can think of prepared dishes and foods they enjoy; but generally these things stay compartmentalized in their minds. Often understanding of the life cycle of that produce, or food systems, from seed to stomach is lost. I’ll be writing this in two parts, today I’ll cover the first point: understanding food systems.

The teens I worked with at the urban agriculture garden year after year were often taken aback when I would pick a cucumber off of the vine, take a bite or slice some off to share it as a snack. “Uh, don’t we need to do something to it?” one kid said. “Other than wash the dirt off, nope!”, I’d say. We’re talking about food that they helped grow with their own hands and hard work, but they didn’t immediately see it as food. To them, these were plants, and you don’t just eat random plants. Produce came from shiny cases in the grocery store and were periodically spritzed with water.

To further help them make the connection we would hold an informal cooking class every Friday, sometimes with a local chef, where we would harvest our crops, wash them, then make some lunch together. Often we would have them experiment with mixing ingredients and creating dishes. I even taught them how to can vegetables (Spicy Pickled Carrots) in one class. It took a little nudging and bartering to try new things, but most of them liked at the very least one thing we made throughout the summer.

During their time in the garden as part of their jobs, we would have activities about the current food system. This included visiting farms, grocery stores, watching documentaries, and having discussions about our experiences. On visits to farms they could learn about dairy production, raising chickens and pigs for meat and other produce operations, as well as see agriculture or related sciences as a viable career option. On very hot days, we would huddle inside a local school and watch documentaries about monocultures, large scale factory farming, and processed foods with a prize given out every time someone heard a certain buzzword to keep them from falling asleep. One activity that everyone loved was a scavenger hunt in a grocery store that included items like: list all of the countries or states where the apples are from, find your favorite breakfast cereal and write in what order number “sugar” is listed as the ingredient, find an item produced within the Capital Region, etc.

At the end of the summer, they had successfully learned:

  • To grow and harvest food using organic methods
  • To cook with produce and make healthy recipes
  • To determine where their foods were coming from
  • The impacts of food from far away and large factory farms
  • The importance to buy from local farmers or producers wherever possible
  • The importance of healthy food for the human body
  • That access to healthy food was a social justice issue

Also by the end of the summer, they were regularly taking home the food we were growing or sitting down to snack on a cucumber as well.

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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Seeking Transportation and Finding Art

If you spend more than an hour with me, you quickly learn that I am a transportation nerd. Even when I go on vacation, I cannot stop myself from observing how people move. In July 2016, I traveled to Colombia with a DC-based church for a mission trip. I traveled to Colombia a few days earlier than the rest of the team because I wanted to see Mio, the public transportation system in Cali. Yes, my entire purpose for going to Cali was to see public transportation.

My first day in Cali, I set out on foot to find Mio. As I was walking down the street, I noticed a ten story mural. I did not want to stop and look, because I was on a mission to get to Mio. Eventually, I navigated my way to the main Mio route. When I saw the route, I witness that Mio does not operate in a bus lane. It operates in A BUS STREET. There was an entire street dedicated to the bus in a relatively narrow street curb to curb. I was as emotional as a five-year-old seeing Mickey Mouse for the first time.

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The challenge of Mio is that the ridership is so high, every bus was stuffed to the gills. Even though I came to Cali to experience the public transportation system first hand, when the bus doors opened and I was faced with the mass of people, I decided to pass. I do not do well in overcrowded situations.  With my plans to ride foiled, I walked back to the ten story mural.

After taking in the mural and all of its intricate details, I noticed another one not far away. I started walking toward the second mural. Then I noticed more. Needless to say I ended up on an adventure around the city to find the murals, which people in Cali call graffiti. I explored Cali by foot for several hours hunting for murals.  Here are some of my favorites:

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After getting back to my hotel, the experience reminded me about the importance of public art in cities. Murals, sculptures, and other forms of public art create a sense of place that, in supporting the community’s creativity, encourages walkability.  In the Ten Principles for Building Healthy Places, the Urban Land Institute found public art slows cars and make streets more attractive for shoppers and pedestrians. Other places can follow Cali’s example of encouraging murals as a tool for encouraging walking.

 

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.

Howard County LPPRP Public Meeting

Tips to Design for Public Engagement

In my previous post, Designing to Connect Communities, I explained why content visualization is useful for communicating complex ideas. Today, I want to share three basic tips of creating a good content design and some examples from Nspiregreen’s projects. These tips may be useful when designing a PowerPoint presentation, a poster, or any other document to communicate your ideas more effectively.

Consider the audience

When we do outreach in the District of Columbia and other cities, we expect to engage people from a variety of backgrounds, education levels, and even languages. Therefore, we know that we need to focus on using simple and non-technical terms, as well as graphics to explain complex transportation and environmental concepts. If, on the other hand, we are preparing an internal document for a client, we use more technical language while at the same time maintaining a visually appealing design.

Below are different versions of a poster we created for the Rock Creek East II Livability study.  Within the study area there are a large community of Amharic and Spanish speakers. We designed a poster in English, Spanish, and Amharic.

Figures 1- Considering the Audience

Use images instead of text

Images are a universal language that can facilitate communication (you can read more about this in my previous post). When we work with communities, we not only use simple, non-technical words to explain a concept, but we create diagrams, illustrations, graphs and figures that help the reader to better and faster understand the ideas we want them to understand. Our aim is to reduce the amount of words used to describe a process or other ideas.

When I am in the process of designing a poster, I take some time to get inspiration. I do this by searching for design ideas on Google or Pinterest, including how to create an appealing process diagram or illustration that could help summarize an idea. There are many online resources of free or low costs images, icons, and illustrations.

Here is an example of a board we created for a public meeting for the DC Stormwater Plan, where we reduced the text to the minimum, and we used icons and graphics to support a list of action items.

Figures 2 - Use images instead of text

Choose the colors carefully

There is a fine line between a nice design and a document that looks like a piñata. We carefully choose the colors we want to use for each project. Having too many colors can be distracting, making it difficult for readers to focus the attention on the content. A good rule of thumb is to use no more than 4 different colors, which might include black and white.

For instance, the Vision Zero Action Plan we worked on last year (here are some good insights we had: link to 2 blogs) contained 2 main colors: red, which is the District of Department of Transportation (DDOT)’s branding color (our client), and blue. The other 2 colors are white and black. If you need more color variations, as we did, using different shades of those colors work well. The following image is one of the pages of the Vision Action Plan, which summarize some statistical facts through graphics, using only the branding colors.

Figures 3 - Choose colors carefully

To create visually appealing documents, there is no need to be a professional graphic designer. As any other skill, it takes a bit of research, time, and practice. Following these tips might give you a good place to start. If you find these tips useful and you want to know more, stay tune as I keep as I keep posting more tips in our blog in the future.

Fabiana I. Paez has a background in Geography and Cartography. She is passionate about creating visual designs to communicate and engage people in social and environmental causes.





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