Watering The Food Desert

Maywood’s last grocery store closed on Christmas Eve of 2017 leaving many residents, especially those without a car, unable to access the fresh foods they needed for the holiday and beyond. The village, located in Proviso Township, is a primarily Black community with nearly 20% of all residents living in poverty (the national average is 14%). Thus, Maywood tells yet another story of disenfranchisement in American communities of color. Driving through the village, one is bound to see various places to buy a quick fried meal while the opportunities for fresh, healthy meals are virtually nonexistent.

Proviso Partners for Health, in which I serve, is hoping to alleviate disparities. With various hubs (economic justice, food justice, school wellness, built environment), and a persistent mindset of sustainability and participatory action, the organization is doing just that. One major project within the food justice hub is VeggieRx. VeggieRx utilizes local urban garden crops to provide Proviso residents who use SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) with free 8 - 10 pound bags of produce weekly. In what is otherwise a food desert, this is a major win for community partners.

Not only does VeggieRx present an opportunity to build community while picking up the produce, it also provides educational opportunities. With each distributed bag, a participant must attend a brief cooking demonstration. This demonstration utilizes the same produce that is in the week’s bag and gives a recipe example while also discussing how to prepare certain uncommon veggies (beets, for example) and the nutritional value of the veggies.

VeggieRx is well- and consistently- attended and is led by a team of dietitians, local farmers, community partners, dietetic interns, medical students, and health coaches. These community collaborations allow for a one-stop shop where everyone attending is bound to learn something.

While we have a ways to go, Maywood stands apart in the strength and passion within the community that will bring us to where we want to be. VeggieRx contributes to building the healthy community which all people deserve.

This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2019-20 member Jacey Hutchinson.

Jacey is an Outreach Coordinator at Proviso Partners for Health.