Food access, especially for lower-income neighborhoods, is a hot topic these days. Those of us who work in the field of markets and food issues know that there are many communities suffering from a lack of fresh, healthy food – especially fruits and vegetables. In return, these communities are experiencing rising rates of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. To counter this problem, farmers markets and CSA’s have been started in many of these food-insecure neighborhoods, and while some have failed, many are thriving and developing into powerful community and economic development engines in their communities.

Three incredible people leading three of these successful organizations: Karen Washington of La Familia Verde, Bronx, NY; Daniel Ross of Nuestras Raíces, Holyoke, MA; and Jason Harvey of Oakland Food Connection, Oakland, CA spoke at the 7th International Public Markets Conference and taught us that the old real estate mantra of “location, location, location” has been replaced by “community, community, community.” Karen, Daniel and Jason all credit their organizations’ longevity and success to their roots in the community. All three of their projects were started by people living in the neighborhood who knew that change needed to come, knew what to do to bring about that change, and most importantly, knew that only they themselves could bring about that change.

What makes these three organizations so fascinating is that they all have undergone a sort of evolution. What was once a simple community garden has now grown into a farmers market and a youth education program has spawned a youth-operated local foods café. Not content to simply come up with one solution, these three projects have set their sights higher and their work develops as their communities’ needs grow and change. Ultimately, it is their ability to be flexible and listen and react to the community’s desires that has kept their programs viable and sustainable. We can only hope that more cities around the U.S. and the world can grow and sustain their own versions of a La Familia Verde or Nuestras Raíces or Oakland Food Connection.

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