I began the week in St. Louis and met with a group called Healthy Youth Partnership. A small, relatively young coalition-based agency, they focus on policy approaches to countering the high levels of malnutrition, childhood obesity, and diabetes in the city's four poorest zip codes.Among their goals is the establishment of a city food policy council that would help increase the availability of nutritious, affordable food sources in the handful of food deserts spread throughout the city. They plan to organize a screening of Food, Inc. in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood (where Arthur Ashe and Chuck Berry grew up), with the hopes that the event will be both a general awareness opportunity, as well as a way to promote the food council’s effort and, more directly, to gain community support and buy-in for a proposed indoor food marketplace to be built from scratch in the center of the neighborhood.
The marketplace project, which would include small-scale vendors of affordable, nutritious food, is being spearheaded by an architecture professor at Washington University (whose campus is almost a stone's throw from the neighborhood, but culturally and economically, worlds apart). He and his students were asked by an alderman from the district, to create a design for a community marketplace in a community with virtually no real food sources. Don Koster, the professor, showed me the designed plans for the marketplace, which looked beautiful. He also drove me to the proposed site - a vacant lot smack dab in the middle of one of the most distressed neighborhoods I've ever seen. The plethora of burned out houses, vacant lots, and boarded windows all created the sense of a neighborhood that had been bombed out and left to die. It's quite amazing to see such disinvestment in America's inner cities. The marketplace has a ways to go before any groundbreaking, but if the project does come to fruition, and is truly a grassroots community effort, it would be a huge step towards revitalizing the neighborhood - both socially and economically – and providing a safe, positive space to purchase healthy food.