“WHEN DREAMS EMERGE, COMMUNITIES ARISE”
As far back as human history, food has functioned as a magnet, bringing families and communities together. Access to healthy, nutritious food has always been paramount for maintaining a well-balanced diet and longevity. Unfortunately for many families who live in low-income urban areas, finding local fresh produce remains a challenge.
Dreaming Out Loud, a D.C. nonprofit founded in 2008, believes in the power of food to “feed the dreams of all people and build more resilient communities.”
The initial goals focused on bridging the educational and economic gap in under-served communities, working in Ward 7 to provide leadership and character development to school-aged children.
“There is a huge utility in teaching core values to kids — it changes their lives,” said founder and executive director Chris Bradshaw. “We started to notice a lot of issues stemming from food that impacted our ability to run a successful program.”
Indeed, without access to fresh foods, neighborhoods end up facing severe and long-lasting health issues, which can span generations. According to the National Housing Institute, access to affordable, nutritious food is “an essential component of a livable and well-functioning community…and can enhance their broader economic and social health.”
“In kindergarten through third grade, kids were being fed sugary snacks and then would have no attention span after school,” Bradshaw said. “In high school-aged kids, we saw an evolution of the same issues. There was a lack of access in the community to healthy foods.”
After realizing that many of the social issues they were fighting stemmed from the same source, the “consequential issues surrounding food systems and economics in our partner communities,” DOL pivoted towards its current mission of building food equity. Bradshaw and colleagues believe all communities need and deserve equal access to healthy food choices.
They launched Aya Community Markets, a “growing network of farmers markets that help to provide access to fresh, local produce, spur economic development, and build health equity,” according to the DOL website.
Aya Community Markets use both the traditional farmers market model and mobile farm stands to extend their reach as wide as possible.
In 2014, more than 10,000 people benefitted from Aya Markets, and more than 70,000 pounds of fresh, local produce were distributed. Dreaming Out Loud pairs with an anchor farm partner, Crazy Farm, in Westmoreland County, Va. In 2015, Bradshaw and company aim to reach 30,000 people.
“Aya” is Ghanian for “the fern.” Bradshaw traveled to Ghana in 2011, and was inspired by the farmers markets of Ghana, which simultaneously support farmers and communities.
“We see the food system as a way to bring communities together and strengthen them,” he said.
Q&A WITH CHRIS BRADSHAW, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF DREAMING OUT LOUD
1. Have you experienced any challenges with trying to bring healthy eating habits into the lives of communities and families that aren’t necessarily used to doing so?
It is a challenge to get people used to the idea of healthier eating. It helps that awareness of the issue has grown substantially in recent years, especially with Michelle Obama, the White House garden and the Let’s Move! campaign. People are more willing to try new things and get involved. It’s great to see the interest grow. We now have two markets and a garden space. I can feel the growth in the city and people becoming more aware… it feels like we are bridging the gap between desire and lack of opportunity.
2. Tell me more about the idea to use Adinkra symbols.
The Adinkra symbols are our organization’s core values. They’re a way to take stock of the foundational elements of our broader teaching philosophy. How do you instill a value-based approach to your work? It also involves instilling performance values for how you conduct yourself. They are the compass for our work.
3. Can you tell me about a specific time or instance in which you felt your mission was a success?
The instance when I felt our mission was being exemplified most was at our farmer’s market. Just hearing people come up and say how thankful they are for the market and the availability of produce and how much it helps them. I remember once last year a woman came up to me and said, “I’m so glad you this is here, this is helping me deal with my HIV and sickle cell.” That was a really touching moment for me. To have both of those diseases and to not have access to ways to maintain your diet — I couldn’t believe it.
4. What is something you’ve taken away from your work with Dreaming Out Loud?
It’s taught me the idea that everybody’s opinion and value is unique and that you have to take the time to understand someone’s value and uniqueness. What someone brings to your life and to your world is not always obvious.
ADDITIONAL PROJECTS AND COLLABORATIONS
Project Dream Green
In 2010, Dreaming Out Loud, in cooperation with Groundwork Anacostia River DC, developed and implemented “Project Dream Green,” a youth employment and training program. Participants aged 14-21 participated in environmental projects including energy conservation and maintenance of parks and trails.
The Aya Youth Cooperative builds off DOL’s initial mission of character and leadership development by striving to provide a space for youth to gain work, entrepreneurial, and service skills.
DOL has established an urban farm at Blind Whino, which will allow 12 youth participants to gain valuable skills and development.
Produce Plus Program
In a blog post about the community partnerships, Bradshaw cited PPP as the key to much of the success DOL saw in 2014. The program helps District residents who are recipients of federal assistance programs by providing them with $10 per household per week to spend on fresh fruit and vegetables at the farmer’s markets. PPP functions as an incredible way to give access to fresh produce for low-income communities.
More DOL projects and collaborations here….