The aroma of freshly baked pastries and a full service omelet bar fills the air, as brunchgoer’s excitedly step into the brightly painted Art-drenaline Cafe. Graffiti murals and neon paintings cover the walls of the spacious shop, a new community hot spot that serves the freshest food to locals of DC’s Anacostia.
The Art-drenaline cafe and its mother organization, the Fresh Food Factory, are game changers in this Ward 8 neighborhood, one that has suffered a food disparity for many years. With only 3 full-service grocery stores spread out across the wards 11.8 square miles, this neighborhood is classified as a food desert.
What is a food desert, you ask?
A food desert is a low-income neighborhood that lacks easy access to fresh food and requires locals to travel great lengths just to go food shopping or pick up dinner. It is often a neighborhood where fast food is the norm. It is a neighborhood where farmers markets rarely set up camp. It is a neighborhood where the nearest grocery store is over a mile away but no one owns a car. And in Anacostia, it is a neighborhood with some of the highest poverty and obesity rates in all of DC.
Compare Ward 8’s three full-service grocery stores to the eleven grocery stores in Ward 3, the highest-income Ward, and you may understand just how serious this issue is. Ward 8 has a diabetes rate of which is 5 times higher than that of Ward 3. In 2011, 18,000 DC residents lived in food deserts, with children making up 39% of one such desert.
(Photos courtesy of The Fresh Food Factory and Art-drenaline Cafe)
Anacostia is like too many places all across America, where low-incomes correlate to limited food resources, and the health of families suffers. In 2010, when 23.5 million Americans were living in food insecurity, Michelle Obama vowed to eliminate food deserts in the United States.
Fast-forward to today and the problem is far from solved. Millions of dollars have been invested into developing better food accessibility nationwide, but some experts have found adding a grocery store isn’t enough. In order to improve the health of a community, lifestyles must change too.
Amanda and Shawn, the founders of the Fresh Food Factory and Art-drenaline Cafe, are working toward doing just that.
By growing fresh, pesticide-free produce and vegetation right in the heart of Anacostia, the Fresh Food Factory is encouraging the community to get closer and more familiar with the source of their food. By cooking up delicious meals in a welcoming, friendly, and beautiful environment, the Art-drenaline Cafe is directly impacting the health of each and every customer. And eventually, by selling the fresh produce at busy farmers markets, the organization is providing Anacostia families the opportunity to change their lifestyle and live more sustainably.
Instead of just plopping a smoothie shop in the middle of a food desert and saying “Here you go, this will make it all better,” Amanda and Shawn’s project is actually building a community around healthy living. It’s creating new employment opportunities for locals. It’s generating traffic that encourages more business ventures to develop. It’s teaching children how to plant a seed and grow a vegetable. It’s proving to the world that living a healthy life should not be a trait exclusive to high-income groups.
As our film crew got to know Amanda and Sean, we saw two incredibly selfless, positive and genuine people with a passion for helping others and a powerful vision for the future.
Coming from a farm in Virginia, Amanda’s love of gardening and growing her own food has inspired her to share that experience with others. She recognizes the health problems the Anacostia community faces, and she strongly believes that interacting with the soil and vegetation at the Fresh Food Factory will connect people with the earth and serve as a gateway to a foundation of better nutrition.
Shawn, a DC native, grew up with a grandmother who made the greatest corn bread in the world. His passion for cooking began as a young boy and grew from a hobby to a full time career. Not only does Shawn cook up some incredible dishes, but he also feeds the community with support and mentorship. He has lived in Anacostia for part of his life, so his understanding of the people there helps him build strong relationships with customers and employees. And unlike many business owners, Shawn is in it for the benefit of the community, rather than for the profit.
A main goal of his is to provide employment opportunities to the community and give people from the neighborhood a chance to develop their skills and prove their talent. In 2012, Ward 8 had an unemployment rate of 22 percent, one of the highest in the country! This year, it is down to 14.3 percent, but Shawn hopes the growth of the business will contribute to a continued decrease in these numbers.
Together, the two entrepreneurs have a vision of hope for Anacostia. They know the issue is a real one, and they know it is not easily solvable. But they also recognize the power a business like theirs can have by providing new opportunities and influencing the way a community thinks and acts. They are ready and eager to utilize every tool in their reach in order to grow their organization’s success, and in turn, the success of each individual in the neighborhood.