The relationship between food insecurity and racial and economic discrimination is both obvious and frequently papered over, says Tilman Gerald, co-development director at Dreaming Out Loud (DOL), a nonprofit organization with a mission to create economic opportunities through the development of a healthy, equitable food system in marginalized communities in the Washington, DC Metro Region, where about one third of residents have experienced food insecurity in the past year, most of whom are people of color with low incomes.
“People like to say that food insecurity is getting out of control and drop all these statistics about it and then say, ‘So, here is a box of food or a discount on your food or a supplemental program so that you can go to the store and get food,’ because that’s the most immediate and easiest solution. But we have to go deeper to understand why food insecurity exists.
We have to say, ‘We know that this neighborhood doesn’t have any food. But, why is that? Because there is only one grocery store in the neighborhood. But, why is that? Because the median income in the neighborhood isn’t attractive to grocery stores. But, why is the median income what it is?’ Through asking these questions, we can unravel the historical mistreatment of these communities and see how we are perpetuating that mistreatment today.”
DOL is part of a broad-based movement to build social equity and promote healthy neighborhoods known as Equitable Food Oriented Development (EFOD), a community-anchored development strategy centering Black, Indigenous and People of Color food and agriculture projects and enterprises as vehicles for shared power, cultural expression and community asset building. In 2022, The Kresge Foundation awarded a total of $1 million in new grant funding to DOL and seven other organizations that are building EFOD-aligned projects in their communities. These investments are in addition to more than $1 million in grants Kresge awarded to the eight EFOD projects in 2020.
Working at the intersection of food access and employment, DOL operates a variety of programs that simultaneously promote food-oriented businesses owned by people of color and provide healthy, fresh food to communities with limited food access. The programs are designed to meet community residents wherever they are on the spectrum of food knowledge.
DOL operates two urban farm properties – a two acre property behind the Kelly Miller Middle School in Ward 7 and a 1-acre farm at the Ft. Stanton recreation center in Ward 8 – where community members can come to sample fresh food and learn gardening basics.
For community members who are working to become professional farmers, DOL operates the Dream Black Food Fund to provide training and technical assistance on critical business elements including crop planning, marketing and sales.
For more established farmers, DOL facilitates access to new markets. Through its wholesale and Food Hub operations, DOL aggregates, sells, and distributes food grown by Black Farmers in DC, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina to area restaurants, catering companies, and residents who subscribe to the organization’s Black Farm CSA, a weekly produce delivery service. The organization also operates farmers’ markets three times a week, both to increase sales opportunities for local farmers of color, and also to increase access to fresh, healthy food in communities with limited food options.
Finally, for food entrepreneurs, DOL offers the DREAM Entrepreneurial program, a 16-week initiative that provides training and technical assistance on business planning, marketing, sales, and packaging. The program’s goal, says Tilman, is to assist the entrepreneur to “go from an early stage to a fully functioning business in the food sector.”
Though the Dream Entrepreneurial program operated online during the pandemic, the program will soon be relaunching in-person and will be able to take advantage of DOL’s impending expansion. In early next year, DOL will move into a 36,000 square foot building that will the organization will share with D.C. Central Kitchen, a longstanding, nationally-recognized nonprofit organization and social enterprise that uses food “to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities.”
The new building includes cold storage, commercial kitchen space, culinary job training space, volunteer kitchen space, and a café, and provides significant new opportunities for DOL, which has been leasing commercial kitchen space in shared facilities.
“In our new building, the entrepreneurs we work with will get access to state-of-the-art equipment and the space to refine their recipes, which is important for the DREAM participants working in catering or food production,” says Sherita Brace, co-development director at Dreaming Out Loud.
Additionally, the new partnership with DC Central Kitchen will create new market opportunities for those same entrepreneurs, as well as for the farmers that work with DOL, as they will get the chance to sell their food in at least some of the 53 stores that DC Central Kitchen operates around the City.
“It’s a real win-win,” says Brace. “A lot of these stores are in neighborhoods where access to fresh food is not easy. Through this partnership, our farmers and food-based entrepreneurs gain access to new and consistent income streams while the community receives an influx of fresh food from marginalized and under-resourced businesses.”