Win tickets to see the smash hit musical Mamma Mia at the Roanoke Civic Center. Two winners will each receive four tickets!
Courtesy Mark Powell
Bill Reed grew this cabbage at the Frank Roupas Community Garden in southeast Roanoke.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
There’s no question that Roanoke is in the midst of an explosion of growth in our local food community. A renaissance is defined as a revival or rebirth, especially of culture and learning, and what has occurred over the past five years is nothing short of a renaissance in local food.
There’s nothing subjective about the matter either, as it’s easy to count the ways our community has grown in relation to food. Two urban farms (Heritage Point and Lick Run Farm) are now operating within city limits. Four new community food markets have developed, administered by Carilion Clinic, the YMCA and a local nonprofit called the Local Environmental Agriculture Project.
There are at least four local restaurants with a local food emphasis. At least one of these restaurants grows food at its own nearby garden to support its menu. The Roanoke Community Garden Association has developed four community gardens, and a fifth is breaking ground currently. In 2013, these gardens are on track to serve more than 400 gardeners, will host youth programs and will host numerous educational and cultural events while being bolstered by hundreds of volunteers. At least five other community gardens have sprung up in addition as a result of efforts by individuals, churches and other nonprofits. At least four school gardens now operate on the grounds of Roanoke City Schools.
Other educational initiatives have taken root, as well. The PATH Community Coalition, which includes representatives from Roanoke City Schools, several nonprofits, Carilion Clinic pediatricians and Roanoke College researchers, seek initiatives (including access to markets and gardens) to improve health and combat childhood obesity in the Roanoke Valley. An organization called Happy Healthy Cooks (a component of New Horizons Healthcare) is reaching children through numerous city schools and Head Start programs, turning kids and their families on to delicious, healthy food by cooking together in the classroom. It’s worth mentioning that none of these numerous efforts, involving thousands of participants, was in existence a mere five years ago.
There’s more to come that will turn our urban landscape into a lush foodscape: RCGA is planning an urban orchard, developing plans for several new gardens and envisions greenhouse operations, community kitchens, rooftop gardens and aquaponic operations. Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill has been helpful in pinpointing property in the city that may be used for agricultural purposes.
The city’s parks may soon play a role. The parks and recreation department is compiling a new master plan for the department. Residents provided input during master planning sessions asking the department to make food production a component of the parks. The hope is that portions of parkland might be used for gardens, food forests and orchards that may serve the public. There’s ample evidence of such uses in other communities nationwide, and the benefits include both savings for park maintenance and good food, of course.
Why is it so important that local businesses, government, foundations and private individuals support these efforts? The evidence suggesting we are in a crisis is ample. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, Roanoke exhibits higher than average rates of obesity, overweightness, heart disease and colorectal cancer compared to statewide averages. Seventy-seven percent of residents eat few fruits and vegetables, 30 percent of residents participate in no exercise, and 59 percent of adults and 21 percent of children are obese. City residents also suffer from a higher prevalence of diabetes, physical inactivity, hypertension, increased mortality rates and diabetes mortality rates.
There’s no mystery: These problems can be impacted significantly in a positive fashion by the many partners currently working in Roanoke’s local food effort by encouraging increased consumption of healthy organic food, increased education regarding diet and nutrition, and increased physical activity by participants.
Carilion Clinic concurs in these matters: In its recently compiled Community Health Needs Assessment, there are numerous references to the need for health education on diet and nutrition and calls for access points for healthy local food and recreation (i.e. markets and gardens). The coalition of groups forming in Roanoke is helping to fill these needs and asks for the community’s support as this movement grows.
Recently, I spoke at a Roanoke City Council budget hearing to support funding for the Virginia Cooperative Extension, as there are current cuts being proposed to VCE’s funding requests. The extension provides education through programs in agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences, 4-H youth development and community viability. VCE also administers the Master Gardener program, a Master Food volunteer program and has a daily help desk (staffed by master gardeners) that gardeners, farmers, teachers and the general public can call for expert advice on horticultural matters.
Many of us in the local food effort rely on the professional advice and volunteer support that the extension provides. The VCE is, to me, the educational core of the local food community. The city’s funding of VCE is a small price to pay in light of its role in supporting the broad coalition of people recently called to action to help how we eat. The bywords of late have been “local,” “organic,” “healthy” and “sustainable,” but the best way to describe the outcome is “delicious.”
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