Imagine a Food Desert Next to the State Fair

Buckeye Farm Beat

Rep. Carlton Weddington, D- Columbus, hosted the third public town meeting of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board.

Published on: May 17, 2010

For most of us in agriculture when we get to 17th Ave. in Columbus we turn west and head to the Ohio State Fairgrounds. Whether it’s to attend the state fair or visit the FFA headquarters or a livestock show at the Coliseum or the Power Show at the Celeste Center, we turn west and not east.

Last week the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board held its third listening session and it might seem that the fairgrounds would have been a logical place to stage it. However, the host of this the third such public town meeting to discuss what issues the board should address was held about a mile or less east of the fairgrounds at Columbus Global Academy. The school formerly was known as Linmoor Middle School and is in a predominantly black neighborhood. There was a basketball game going on in the gym and some graffiti on one of the back doors. Not exactly Ag central.

The meeting was hosted by Rep. Carlton Weddington, D-Columbus. Weddington, an African American, spoke out in favor of the OLCSB and Issue 2 last fall – as did the state’s black caucus. He welcomed the 120 some visitors to the state’s 27th House district and noted that the Columbus Global Academy had enrollment from more than 20 different countries and represented the progressive nature of the Columbus School District.

He then informed the assembly they were surrounded by a “food desert.”

“There are four commercial grocery stores in this entire district. But we have beer and wine and cigarette and potato chip stores on every corner.”

He spoke to the need for vegetable production in the inner city and introduced Kwodjo Ababio, a resident who is directing his energy into getting local folks to grow and sell more vegetables.

Ababio owns and operates the New Harvest Cafe on Cleveland Avenue, in Columbus' Linden neighborhood. He is an avid gardener who grows much of the food for New Harvest in a plot behind his restaurant. He says, the garden was once a neglected, trash-filled lot owned by the city. He took it over and transformed it into an urban garden, with permission from the city.

He says his tomato plants grow out of raised beds created from old tires stacked two high. Collard greens grow in a large rectangular bed in the center of the garden and he grows herbs to use in his foods. With Weddington’s help he hopes to turn more of the abandoned lots in Columbus into gardens. He calls this practice "radical gardening."

He works with local teens explaining his business approach and trying to make a positive contribution to the community. He is convinced that gardening can be valuable both as a business endeavor and as a very visible means of transforming urban neighborhoods.

The evening of public comment that followed Weddington’s welcome was very civil with all sides getting to express their views on animal agriculture.

As the comments began to fall off, Weddington once again asked for the microphone. “I supported Issue 2 because we need to have this discussion about livestock care and we need to talk about food,” Weddington told the gathering. “I am pleased that so many came here to discuss the issue, but I look around the room and I do not see the kind of diversity we need to bring to this topic. I see three African Americans and two people from other ethnic backgrounds and it worries me. We need to bring all kinds of people to the table, if we are going to have a fair and full discussion of our food supply and how we provide food for all of the people of this state.”

So next time you go to the fairgrounds keep in mind there’s a whole different world on the east side of Interstate 71. And they too depend on food.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank goodness someone else out there cares about domestic food insecurity. I was beginning to believe there were only a handful of us! While I fully support the idea of eliminating "food deserts," it will take time. A long time. Fact is, even if fresh produce were available no one in this community would eat it. The problem is not really a problem as White idealists see it. It's a socio-economic problem. Until Blacks and Browns ("African-Americans and Hispanics and Latinos") change eating habit, it won't matter if the streets are flooded with fresh produce. You can bring a horse to water but you can't make it drink it.

  2. Beth Stuever says:

    Tim, I read your headline and immediately thought, "I can, we call it Detroit." Many of our large cities are struggling with the same issues. Detroit residents are starting to take back control of their food choices by growing their own. (And I don't mean the kind of "growing their own" that you did in college. KIDDING!) I applaud anybody who wants to produce their own food inside city limits. I hope we can continue to show people the value of healthful food by allowing them to be part of the food system. However, as one popular bumper sticker states "Farmers Feed Cities". We've got to find a way to meld these two concepts--farmers feeding cities while cities supplement their nutritional needs--to the benefit of all. Enjoyed your column as always.

  3. S. Steel says:

    Great job capturing the food desert issue. Four groceries in that entire district?