“Grocery Walk” in DC Raises Awareness, Inspires Action

By Lillie Rosen, DC Greens

On Saturday, October 14, 2017, hundreds of Washington, DC, residents, city council members, and community leaders walked the two miles from the only grocery store in Ward 8 to rally in downtown, historic Anacostia, holding carrots, carrying grocery bags, and brandishing signs calling for healthy food as a basic right.

Not all DC neighborhoods are created equal when it comes to accessing healthy food. There are only three full-service grocery stores in Wards 7 and 8 for over 148,000 people, the majority of whom are people of color. Ward 3, in comparison, with a majority of White residents, has nine full-service grocery stores for its 80,000 residents. That lack of fresh, healthy, and affordable food east of the Anacostia river has created what experts call the “grocery store gap” in DC.

The grocery gap reflects how city policies and business practices have chronically underinvested in poor communities and communities of color.

For many Ward 8 residents, a two-mile walk or 40-minute bus ride to the nearest grocery store is routine. The Giant in the Congress Heights neighborhood is the only grocery store for more than 79,000 people living in Ward 8. For the 17 percent of residents in that Ward who have a disability and the 47 percent who have no access to a personal vehicle, shopping for healthy, affordable food is a huge challenge.

This grocery store gap has huge implications for the well-being of individuals and for the city more broadly. DC neighborhoods with the least access to fresh food also have the highest rates of diet-related diseases. People who live in Ward 8 are five times more likely to die from diabetes than residents who live in Ward 3. These same neighborhoods also have the lowest income levels and the highest percentage of Black residents in the city.

At the end of the walk, participants rallied with Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity Courtney Snowden, Councilmembers Trayon White and Vincent Gray, community leaders, and activists to learn about ongoing efforts to fund and open grocery cooperatives and other new grocery stores; increase access to federal nutrition benefits; and issues related to urban agriculture and labor rights.

The event got city leaders on the record about their plans to improve food access in Wards 7 and 8 and introduced many residents to businesses looking for supporters. By partnering with a number of other organizations, including the Office of Councilmember Trayon White, the Ward 8 Health Council, the Health Alliance Network, Capital Area Food Bank, DC Central Kitchen, Bread for the City, DC Hunger Solutions, and WPFW Radio, we were able to highlight the depth and breadth of work and conversation happening across the city.

Our next step is bringing together experts and residents on October 26, 2017 for a food justice teach-in. Through the teach-in, our goal is to continue making connections between community members, the efforts already happening in their neighborhoods, and city decision makers.

DC Greens uses the power of partnerships to support food education, food access, and food policy in the nation’s capital. They are working to generate a city-wide expectation that food access is a priority for DC. Their food access programs work to cultivate culturally relevant and dignified spaces for people to grow, access and purchase food.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Healthy Food Access Portal.