In northern Louisiana, the organization Shreveport Green is working to address shortcomings in local and regional food systems and ensure that communities have access to fresh, nutritious food.
Based in Shreveport, the third most populous city in Louisiana, Shreveport Green strives to create healthy and economically robust communities. The organization operates different programs designed to address food apartheid, including their urban farm, mobile market, a volunteer program called ShreveCorps, and a community garden network. Shreveport Green also carries out city greening efforts, oversees litter cleanups, and helps to plant trees around the community.
A report by Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research shows that 32 percent of Black households face food insecurity in Louisiana. And according to Feeding Louisiana, there are severe gaps in food security for communities of color in northern Louisiana.
In Caddo Parish, a region served by Shreveport Green, up to 30 percent of food-insecure households fall above eligibility for programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
Shreveport Green’s urban farm, located in an area of Shreveport where the media annual income hovers around US$17,000, is critical to the organization’s work to address these gaps in food security. The farm is three acres and is the home to their community garden network and the main production site for their mobile market program.
“We want to connect people to their environment and help them recognize that they too have the ability to create systems of change in their communities,” Donna Curtis, Executive Director of Shreveport Green, tells Food Tank. “The primary objective of this program is to serve 150 families living in section-8 housing with weekly produce and free nutrition and gardening education opportunities.”
Meanwhile, the mobile market was Shreveport Green’s first program to specifically address food apartheid in Caddo Parish. Their work began in community gardens within the Shreveport City area, however the mobile market allowed Shreveport Green to access more easily those with the most need across the county.
Curtis explains that the organization used data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to identify community centers in areas where rates of food insecurity was high “so that our food—and other locally grown food—can be accessed in communities that need the food and resources on how to cook healthy food.”
Operators of mobile markets argue that a successful program must account for location, product prices, labor costs, transportation, and a host of other factors–something Shreveport Green reports they have been able to do successfully. Throughout the pandemic, the organization continued to operate their market and reach consumers in need.
“Since we had a database of our recipients, we were able to immediately contact them and offer home delivery of fresh produce through our Mobile Market Program,” Curtis tells Food Tank.
The mobile market provides fresh fruits and vegetables to 80 families. Lauren Jones, Urban Farm Director for Shreveport Green, believes that the mobile market model can fill the gap at food banks while also supporting small scale farmers. Their flexibility is an asset, she says, allowing them to meet residents when people cannot reach a traditional food pantry.
Shreveport Green’s programs run, in part, with the help of volunteers who participate in ShreveCorps. An extension of AmeriCorps led by Shreveport Green, ShreveCorps consists of community members and out-of-state volunteers committed to community education across various age groups.
ShreveCorps members plant and maintain the crops within both the community garden network and urban farm. These members also help distribute food through the Mobile Market.
Curtis says that Shreveport Green is partnering with Louisiana Small Scale Agriculture Coalition to create the first farmer training program in northern Louisiana. She also shares that they plan to expand the ShreveCorps education program to serve elementary through high school students.
“We need to train more farmers as soon as possible,” Jones tells Food Tank. “And they should be trained in Shreveport.”
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Photo courtesy of Markus Spiske, Unsplash