Health in the Hood

Asha Loring, Health in the Hood
Miami, FL

Meet the South Florida Organization Combatting Food and Health Injustice

By: Asha Loring, Founder and Executive Director of Health in the Hood, for Food Print

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Growing up in South Florida, Asha Loring saw firsthand a lack of access to fresh produce like radishes and kale in her neighborhood of Overton, Miami. Her father, a professor and long-time organizer in Miami, began an urban farming organization in the 90s, so it’s not surprising that Loring grew up to start her own community gardening nonprofit, Health in the Hood, which works to combat food deserts. Through her efforts, Health and the Hood has established 10 community gardens in Southern Florida; each are managed by a local resident, providing a paid job opportunity to the neighborhood, and offer produce free of charge to the residents, as well as health education and nutrition classes. Here, Loring shares her story, some of her experiences working with Health and the Hood, and why the mission to provide access to healthy food is so important. – FoodPrint Editors

“Excuse me, can I offer you some free, locally grown collard greens?”

I’ve yet to receive a “no” this question.

Eating fresh foods is almost impossible if you live in a food desert, which is why I have spent the last six years growing food in urban areas, giving it away to families who can’t access fresh food.

Combatting Food Deserts

In 2013, I founded the community gardening nonprofit organization Health in the Hood. We built our first urban vegetable garden in Liberty City, a sprawling South Florida food dessert, best known for drug wars and drive-bys and almost no fresh ingredients. We applied for a few grants, expanded our network of urban gardens and developed our health education curriculum. Today we have 10 urban farms throughout Southern Florida and have distributed over 6,000 pounds of free fruits and vegetables to families in food deserts.

The USDA designates food deserts as areas of low income with no access to fresh food within one mile, and South Florida by this definition is home to 326 of them (for some perspective, over 23 million Americans live in food deserts). Instead of spinach and apples, the grocery stores in these communities have Chef Boyardee and hot fries, and a lack of transportation, cash and/or knowledge can both contribute and make matters even worse.

We serve these hidden hungry, whose circumstance is one of this country’s dark secrets rooted in a history of inequality.

Health in the Hood is creating healthy communities by building vegetable gardens and teaching wellness in under-served neighborhoods. We transform vacant land into vibrant vegetable gardens, producing many different vegetables and fruits including collard greens, lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, herbs, green beans, radishes, carrots, arugula, squash, cucumbers, potatoes, watermelon, kale, onions, okra, eggplant, potatoes and more. We hire local residents to maintain the gardens, providing needed jobs. We paint colorful, beautiful murals on the vegetable beds. Our health education curriculum consists of high energy, incentive-based nutrition and fitness programs, and all of the produce grown in Health in the Hood garden goes — for free — to children and families, local food pantries, churches and community centers.

Gardens have a unique way of breaking down barriers and uniting people. When children participate in growing their own vegetables, it creates deep connections to food. When parents can step outside their front door and pick fresh vegetables for dinner, healthy eating becomes easier. When people begin to understand of the dangers of processed foods, they make better choices. We have seen communities unite and become empowered in the Health in the Hood vegetable gardens.

It has been my experience that people are inherently attracted to growing our own food. There is a power and deep satisfaction, especially in today’s food system, to know precisely where your food comes from. There is great power in producing something that is good for you and good for the planet.

As an urban farmer specializing in community vegetable gardens in low- income neighborhoods, it is my privilege to provide fresh food for families who lack access to healthy options. I challenge us all to think about food access differently. We need to change the conversation about how we view vacant land — rather than a deficit, maybe that empty lot or rooftop, even your front yard, is actually a community asset.

Growing our own food is disruptive in the best way. By simply planting seeds we can reclaim our food system. The solution is simple: Let’s plant seeds everywhere we can! Seeds that will feed communities and embed the solution in the fabric of society for people to see and experience and eat! The future of food is local, so let’s get growing!