Washington Street in Jamaica Plain can already be classified as a food desert — an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food — and there is discussion of increasing population along the corridor.
A recent informal survey of 183 individuals at the Egleston Farmers Market, Egleston Plaza, and the Stony Brook and Jackson Square T stops indicated that 79 percent lived in Jamaica Plain, but only 47 percent identified Jamaica Plain grocery stores as their households’ main destinations for food shopping.
At the sixth annual Jamaica Plain State of our Neighborhood community gathering April 7, a panel of politicians discussed food justice in the neighborhood, and Boston as a whole. Food justice, explained Luis Edgardo Cotto, executive director at Egleston Square Main Street, refers to a community exercising its right to access, grow and sell healthy foods that are nutritious, affordable, culturally appropriate, and grown locally with care for the well-being of the land, workers, and animals taken into consideration. Cotto introduced a local rapper who sang about the issue of food justice, in which he entreated attendees to “make healthy food a priority.”
State Rep. Liz Malia said she is concerned when traveling down Washington Street that stores are not advertising healthy foods, yet many residents rely on these close-to-home options when shopping for food. She has tried to work toward a food truck that would collect soon-to-be-expired food and drop it off in the neighborhood.
District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson said he would like to see the Daily Table concept replicated all over Boston. Daily Table is a supermarket in Dorchester that sources surplus foods or goods that are approaching their “sell-by” dates, selling them to shoppers at a discount.
District 6 City Councilor Matt O’Malley noted that there are many children living in Jamaica Plain housing developments like the South Street Apartments and Bromley-Heath who need access to fresh, healthy food. The city needs to be creative: He said that some schools in Chicago send an extra backpack of food home with children. “It’s not a resource problem. We have plenty of food,” he said.
At-large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley echoed that it is more difficult for children to excel if they are fed, but not property fueled. Food quality, not only quantity, is crucial. Working toward a “farm-to-school model” would be advantageous, she said. She added that she is concerned about food quality at adult care facilities.
There was also discussion about extending the reach of the Boston Food Forest Coalition, a nonprofit community land trust for neighborhood “forest gardens” — public parks growing edibles — with member sites in Jamaica Plain, as well as Dorchester, East Boston, West End and Mattapan. O’Malley added that the city should look for undeveloped land for community gardens. He also praised Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a Jamaica Plain-based organization that helps get prepared food to shelters in need. The city ought to determine methods to help the Boston Public Schools accept such food, he said.