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Organic Oasis in a Food Desert

By Curtis Black of Community Media Workshop

June 18, 2009 – Englewood residents and food justice activists will celebrate “the death of a food desert” when a new food market featuring local and organic produce opens for a community dinner and fundraiser Friday.

Graffiti and Grub, a project of urban farm pioneer LaDonna Redmond and “hip-hop educator” Wil Seegars, will open on June 19 for a healthy soul food dinner and a program of performances to celebrate Juneteenth. They’re raising funds to complete renovations of the store, with a full-scale opening planned for later this summer.

The store has been ten years in the making for Redmond. In 1999, after her son was diagnosed with severe food allergies and she couldn’t find organic produce in her own neighborhood, she and her husband Tracey began their own food garden.

A former organizer with the North Austin Coalition and co-director of Sisterhouse, Redmond took up the issue of access to healthy food more broadly, developing urban farm sites and a farmers market on the West Side, and operating Organico, an organic market at the Garfield Park Conservatory, for three seasons.

Today six farm sites in Austin and West Garfield are part of her legacy, along with a program in which 175 teens will be learning about green technology and installing urban farm sites and individual home gardens this summer. But her longterm goal was always to open a year-round grocery store.

Graffiti and Grub is “a community-based solution to the issue of food deserts,” she said. “Just bringing in an outside major chain grocery store isn’t enough” to address broader issues of health disparities for African Americans. “In addition to choices, people need a support system,” and Redmond describes the store as a “wellness center” providing information and education on food and health issues.

“There really does need to be local ownership in order to get businesses that are responsive to the community,” she said.

Seegars’ role is to foster creativity and entreprenuership among young people.

Local chefs are preparing meals — with and without meat, and vegan as well — and d.j.s and entertainers will be performing late into the night at Graffiti and Grub’s Juneteenth Celebration, Friday, June 19, starting at 5 p.m. at 5923 S. Wentworth.

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