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BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — Children in some of D.C.'s poorest neighborhoods could soon have more access to fresh produce if an education foundation's plan comes to fruition.
The Bainum Family Foundation acquired a 263-acre Virginia farm in 2015 and wants to use the Middleburg property to grow fruits and vegetables to serve families in the District's Wards 7 and 8. These wards, located east of the Anacostia River, are often referred to as "food deserts" because of residents' inadequate access to groceries and fresh produce there.
The foundation plans to distribute produce — seasonal vegetables such as kale, chard, broccoli and squash — to early childhood centers and schools, develop an educational program about food, and sell some of its produce through a mobile market in the neighborhoods. The foundation seeks to prove that there is a demand and market for healthy food in poor urban areas of the city.
"Nutritional support will be one key focus for the farm, but access is only part of the problem," Leila Otis, the senior director of the Bainum Foundation Farm, said in a news release. "To really move the needle, we also have to build demand for healthy food and support infrastructure that enables our efforts to sustain long term."
The Bainum family — which founded Choice Hotels — donated the farmland to its namesake Bethesda-based foundation in 2015. The foundation plans to start growing crops on seven acres of the land early next year and hopes to distribute its first batch of locally grown food in Wards 7 and 8 later in 2017. By 2018, the Bainum Foundation Farm plans to expand the acres it will cultivate, launch a farm apprenticeship program and distribute food to early learning centers.
The Bainum Family Foundation has been a strong supporter of early childhood care in the city, and in March it announced it would put $2.2 million toward expanding services for infants and toddlers in Wards 7 and 8, including health care and early learning. The farm would function as one way for the foundation to work toward closing the achievement gap in D.C. A 2015 report that Bainum commissioned found there is a significant disparity in the health, well-being, parental education and family structure among the District's youngest wealthiest and poorest residents. The report also found that the city's academic achievement gap starts in infancy.
The foundation is partnering with the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture to deliver the produce. Arcadia operates a mobile market that roves through underserved neighborhoods selling fresh produce on the cheap at scheduled times. Arcadia also will head the farming operations on the Bainum foundation's land.
Arcadia currently sells food that it grows on its own Virginia farm but will also start selling fresh produce in Wards 7 and 8 from the Bainum Foundation Farm in 2017. The first seven acres of crops are expected to supply produce for an estimated 1,000 families, according to the foundation.
"We know that the customers who come to our mobile markets value their food because they are spending their resources on it," said Pamela Hess, Arcadia's executive director. "We definitely sell in these neighborhoods, and there's a power to it. The people that are shopping at the mobile market are investing in their own health."
Arcadia makes the food affordable to its customers by doubling the value of food stamps and other government vouchers; if a customer has $10 in food stamps, they can purchase $20 worth of fresh fruits and vegetables.
"What I find visionary and inspiring is the Bainum Foundation's understanding of the very important but increasingly severed link between the urban and rural areas," Hess wrote in an email. "They need each other, and Bainum is one of the bridges to connecting them again. Children learn more, parents parent better, workers work better, and everyone feels, sleeps and operates better if they have reliable access to wholesome, nutritious food."
Information from: The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com
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