Food Hubs: Criticisms and Considerations for Current and Future Sites

Recently on CityLab, an article was published on the recent plan of a Food Port in Louisville, Kentucky to be developed by 2016. This port is not the first in the States, and in fact there are many other hubs that are popping up around the country in efforts to provide local and regional food markets to typically more economically disadvantaged sections of cities. Some of these hubs are providing other services such as incubator kitchens and canning facilities, while some are looking into other mixed-use development options with drug stores and condominiums. This project is being developed and funded by Seed Capital Kentucky, a nonprofit committed to locally-sourced food products and the partnerships that sustain this local economy. The Food Port is part of the many projects currently underway led by Vision Louisville and other important stakeholders throughout the Metro area, as a revitalization strategy for the western part of the city. Vicky Gan writes:

Seed Capital originally conceived of the development as a food “hub” in 2013, but renamed it the “FoodPort” this year, after the concept evolved to incorporate a kitchen incubator, food truck plaza, demonstration farm, classrooms, and even an anaerobic digester to convert the facility’s organic waste back into usable energy.

The article is pretty convincing and answered most of my questions I had that ultimately doubted the fate of the project. I’m still left with some criticisms, though not to this specific project but of these food hub/port efforts in general. First of all, many of these projects are doing some good when they are taking unused land parcels and redeveloping them, often in the more blighted spots of cities. However, I’m wondering how these projects will affect the immediate constituency that reside in the surrounding area. Many of these projects claim to offer local employment opportunities as well as a more equitable source of healthy food options and the increasing benefits of “community”.

How will these hubs affect the other marts and convenience stores within the area that are serving as the local economy, as well as the price of land and tax revenue from this redevelopment? While these projects claim to bring education, employment and economy into a more regional and local vision, where are the local constituents’ voices and opinions throughout the planning process? What are the engagement strategies being used to source where these hubs should be placed, and see the greater reception of the local community and their ideas for how this can positively affect them? After doing some research, I haven’t found much mentioned and so I’m left with wondering, will these projects actually help the local under-served populations as they assert themselves to, or will they continue to cater to the “food yuppy”, usually more of the affluent background?

I ask the last question because on many of the project websites, the term “foody” is often used, and even Caroline Heine (Director of Seed Capital Kentucky) brings up the point that local food should not just be for “upper middle-class yuppies”. Who are these companies, their sites, and their projects’ marketing schemes seems to be in conflict with who these companies are developing for, or rather should be, developing with. When terms like “foody” are used in the marketing scheme, are these plans really as equitable as they claim? Why do these developments need to be advertised with the “foody” in mind, who often times is also the “upper middle-class yuppy”? If these plans are really meant to foster local economic growth and revitalization of struggling neighborhoods in cities, then how these plans are marketed and discussed needs to change in order to ensure that the people who will be most affected (and that the plans claim to benefit the most) are appropriately addressed and considered top priority throughout all phases of a plan. Jeff Farbman, of National Good Food Network, discusses the applications of these hubs in underserved neighborhoods and cities.

“If you have a city or philanthropic organization interested in reviving a city, locating [so-called] ‘light industrial’ is a great thing to do,” Farbman says. “You are talking about a bunch of jobs, the potential for multiple shifts, but you’re also talking about larger trucks. It’s unlikely to be located in the dense-population or high-wealth areas. I can see economically there is quite a bit of rationale for that.”

Looking at site locations of many of these initiatives, they are often located near interstates (which conveniently are developed through or around struggling neighborhoods). This is great because it offers access to inter- and intra- state commuters, as well as to truck-drivers that can transport goods from the surrounding farms outside of the city limits. Although, I am wondering how future transportation will be impacted in these neighborhoods, with these hubs offering various attractions and necessities to such a large and variable public? Will these hubs replace the farmer’s markets that have popped up throughout cities, and how will this impact the farmers that do not get a spot at the new food hub? How will these hubs mediate engagement with the various population and their income sources- will they accept supplementary income and how do they plan to engage and develop capacity amongst the lower-income constituents to take part in the local economy?

Though I have lots of questions, I think that overall these food ports and food hubs offer more good than harm. I couldn’t help but think about a city that is so dear to me, that I think could benefit greatly from this idea: Memphis. I lived in rural Arkansas for almost two years, and Memphis was like my second home throughout my time in Arkansas. I grew to know it well and as a planner and justice advocate, I always have it in the forefront of my thoughts when it comes to plans or policies and measuring their real intentions versus real impacts. After hypothesizing some places where a food hub could potentially go, I decided to look at the interactive travel-guide map of Memphis to see what would be nearby. Finding a site with similar criteria like the others was challenging simply because I don’t live there anymore. However, using the interactive map and referring to Google Maps, as well as my own memory, I have decided that somewhere along South Parkway West near Interstate 55 would be most appropriate. The map helped me discern from places near Bartlett, Midtown, Cooper Young, or East Memphis. However, when considering South Memphis, South Parkway and the Southgate Plaza Mall were screaming at me. Much of South Parkway consists of liquor stores, mini-marts, loan and credit companies, pawn shops, and has been given a reputation for crime and poverty. You can see the difference here at the screen shots from the interactive map from East Memphis to South Memphis.

East Memphis offers arts, music, museums, and many restaurants.

South Memphis offers clubs, casinos, and landmarks or trails.

South Parkway cuts between I-55 and I-240, and clearly there are no attractions visible except the airport down at the bottom right corner and Martin Luther Riverside Park to the left of I-55.

Obviously all of my previous criticisms and questions would apply here. There are so many buildings along South Parkway (West or East) that are either vacant or decaying, and has ample large parking lots and unused concrete land. Because of the vicinity to the two interstates, but mainly proximity to I-55 and the Martin Luther Riverside Park, along with the economic and social conditions current, I think South Parkway would be an excellent model site if Memphis would want to develop a food hub. Memphis is already a city known for its musical and food cultures, and is right on the Mississippi River surrounded by farms to the East and across the river. Bringing a local food economy as well as employment, and furthermore, pride amongst the many farmers and impoverished city and city outskirts folk, would be a significant improvement to not only the people but also the reputation for South Memphis.

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Mindfulness Mondays 3/16: To Love is to be Vulnerable (at least a little bit)

I’m going to share with you a bit of my day and the raw emotions that were part of it. It’s not entirely full of roses, but it’s human, so it’s real.

Today was harder than usual.

It wasn’t the kind of hard that is prominent and right in your face. It wasn’t loud, and it wasn’t somber. It was a class of it’s own. I didn’t realize how hard it actually was until my boyfriend came home.

All day I had been doing whatever I could to check in with my emotions and try to remediate them…yoga, healthy snacks, an afternoon walk, and even trying to get my work on my to-do list done. (Yes I know that may not sound so joyous to some) I’m going to tell you the truth here. Today was the first day in a while where it felt like I really needed to lean on someone, particularly him.

Today was the official start of my “spring break” and to a graduate student I suppose that doesn’t mean what it would to a stereotypical undergraduate. How did I spend today? Sucked into the couch heavily searching the internet for summer jobs and internships. I only awoke from the trance after three hours of searching to realize I hadn’t drank water or stood up! This was a trigger for me because I not only allowed myself to partake in mindless activity, but I didn’t have anything fruitful to show for all of my work- as in I really didn’t come out with many leads. I was disappointed and by that point hadn’t realized my burnout.

By the time my boyfriend got home and I began laying out what had happened today, I was spiraling. My emotions came to a head, and I began to weep in the comfort of his arms. It was if it was “Okay” to be exposed. He listened and let me have my moment, and proceeded to comfort me afterward. Then he sprung on me the option of spontaneity! He suggested we go out to eat and have it feel like a regular vacation, rather than a work overload day. We went out to eat and I ate things I normally would not, mostly of the fried kind.

I bet you’re like “How is this mindful at all?” You see, I waited to write today because I knew I wasn’t quite myself. All day I was trying so hard to be “My Best Self” and be as productive as possible. Again though, I was running from my true desires and feelings. I really just wanted to give myself a break but since I knew I would be traveling with friends to Niagara Falls later this week (YAY!) I tried to work and get ahead of the game. I’m not advocating here for breaking your rules or motifs, or “letting go” of your goals. I’m not giving reason to be a slacker and give up on any future initiative to work hard. I’m simply living in the moment with how I’m feeling, and allowing myself to be, with mistakes or “mistakes” and all.

Living mindfully does not mean living perfectly. That’s a constant struggle I have within myself. I tell myself that since I have the conscience to recognize my thoughts and choose how I want to react, that I have to always make the best choice. But that’s not true! Being mindful is simply just being able to allow yourself to recognize and then acknowledge your thoughts at all, and furthermore being active in choosing how to respond to those thoughts. Tonight I engaged in indulgence. Earlier today I engaged in yoga. It’s all in moderation and knowing yourself well enough on how to moderate (or be vulnerable enough to explore in moderation) is key.

Today during yoga, I cried. I didn’t know why I cried and it scared me. I knew at that moment there were some deeper things I needed to check in with, and that furthermore scared me since I’d been able to get through my work and responsibilities without as much emotional effort for the last few weeks. But I tried to run from what I was afraid of. I knew all day I just needed a hug and someone to let me feel safe in my emotions, someone that would let me cry or be whatever I wanted to be at that moment. All day I had been trying to maintain the strong version of myself just to simply show myself  I could do it… but then I unraveled. This is why I like mindfulness- because I have this space to reflect on my progress over time and my learning moments! And so my takeaway here is that I allowed myself to be vulnerable to someone I love deeply, and who I know loves me back just the same. I felt safe enough to unravel to my partner who also is my best friend. I allowed myself to not “be perfect”, but “be human”- I allowed myself to be vulnerable and accept the compassion and healing of someone else.

I think now about how fortunate I am to have him in my life. I think about those that suffer with mental health issues that don’t feel like they have anyone to share their feelings with or being truly vulnerable. I am extremely lucky to have many people in my life whom I feel safe to be open with and share my vulnerabilities, and I only hope that people feel the same towards me.  I’m going to challenge myself to check-in more with my emotions this week, and also allow myself to really say what I’m feeling in the moment (this means pushing myself to not shy away from asking people what I need from them). I want to challenge you to do the same, and also take time out to remind yourself who you’re thankful for. Let’s all be mindful and acknowledge who is there for us when we really need them to be (even when we think we don’t need anyone).

Happy Monday y’all!

Mindfulness Check-In 2/2/14: Snowy Day Thoughts

Some quick updates of the last week since my last post:

  1. I am still having migraines almost daily, and am trying to decipher what may be triggering them.
  2. I realized that even on Super Bowl Sunday, I cannot abandon my dietary restrictions, because it just brings me unnecessary bodily suffering.
  3. I still have been exercising and doing some form of yoga or meditation daily- my heels almost touch the ground in downward dog!
  4. It’s the second snow day of second semester!

After reflecting on my updates and past happenings at this current moment, the word that comes to mind is progress. At this moment, I am feeling nervous, sore, tired, and a bit overwhelmed. I am noticing the snow that is falling sideways outside, with no intentions of stopping until late into the night. I’m noticing how that dull ache which never seems to fully diminish is now present in back of my eyes and at my temples. I hear the murmur of the fish tank and tapping of the keyboard, and the humming of the plows outside. I am noticing how every time I think about breathing, my chest actually feels a little tighter, which then reminds me to inhale deeper the next time and let out a loud exhale. I slowly sip my Eggnog tea and hear how it sounds as I swallow. I’m deliberately working on being intentional and “in the moment”. I don’t necessarily have positive feelings towards all of the things I’m noticing, but I also have a beautiful choice.

I can choose how I want to engage with what is happening around me. I can choose to be grateful for my yoga practice and despite my body feeling what it feels, I still have an overall healthy body that allows me to exercise or practice yoga at all! I’m working diligently at tracking how my body feels, and noticing how to use my breath to guide my thoughts, movement, and reactions to my pain. Despite how Super Bowl food makes my body feel, I am grateful for the experience of cooking for my friends and sharing food with them, and that I even had food to cook, especially before the week began. And lastly, despite that my brain feels at points like it’s trying to run in opposite directions, I am still here, writing this post. I have this wonderful snow day and was lucky enough to not have to travel my usual 30 minute drive to my University today and jeopardize safety (and sanity). I was allowed more time to work on things that need to be worked on, things I want to do, and to just exist in whatever form I would like today. I’m sitting here now and after a moment realized I had been flexing my foot for at least 10 seconds. I’m making progress!

It’s not about the deadline for me because mindfulness is an ongoing practice. I’m usually the person that tries to accomplish everything on time, as efficiently as possible. But with mindfulness I can’t rush it, and I can’t necessarily finish it. All I can do is practice it and continue to show up and give whatever I can give each day, each moment. I have made progress on my goals, and I will continue to progress with my practice. I hope wherever you are, you can take a moment just to stop and notice what you’re thinking (or not), and how your body feels, what it’s doing, and what you see, smell, hear, taste, touch around you! The best thing about practicing mindfulness for me is the honesty. I can just be honest with myself and don’t have to pretend that everything is great just because it’s a snow day. I can just be what I feel and how I think, and don’t necessarily have to like it but can acknowledge it and let those feelings just sit there as they are- I don’t have to engage with them if I don’t want to! And if I do, I can catch myself in the moment and reflect on if my behavior is helping me or causing me increased suffering. I have the power to determine my own progress!

Here’s a picture I took today of my backyard in the woods. Though I haven’t trekked outside yet, it sure is a peaceful site.

If you look really close at the ground you can see how high the snow is!

If you look really close at the ground you can see how high the snow is!