“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. (Next)

About the Author: Marisa Weidner is a graduate of The College of William and Mary. She has volunteered as a teacher in Belize, and in homeless shelters in the United States. Marisa chronicles her explorations of DC on her blog, The Curated City