excerpts from feature story

Nancy J. Parisi

It isn’t often that Buffalo Spree gets out its ruler to give certain aspects of Western New York life an admonitory tap. But even though we prefer to look on the bright side, we can’t ignore newspaper headlines and the evidence of our eyes any more than you can. Our region is beset by many problems that cause our young people to leave and our neighborhoods to decline. Some of them are due to economic conditions faced by all cities where heavy industry has all but disappeared; others are the result of the larger worldwide fiscal crisis of recent years.

But some of our problems we bring on ourselves and we need to fix them ourselves. In the following pages we detail many of our failures with some suggestions on how they got that way. We’ve kept it balanced, though. There are also many reasons WNY is a great place to live, work, and play—we talk about those as well.

Of course, this is just a sampling of both the good and the bad. We know we’ve missed a lot—if there are omissions you’d like to talk about, respond via email or comments on buffalospree.com.

Bringing fresh food to the inner city

By Nancy J. Parisi

Photo of MAP’s Jesse Meeder with the aquaponics system by kc kratt.
Since 1992, Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) has been a locus for extracurricular life learning for urban youth. Their solid mission of local sustainability, good personal and community health, and social change is accomplished via multifaceted programs—all of them involving, and impacting, students.

Overlapping MAP programs involve urban farming, nutrition education, community gardening, selling of locally grown produce and other nutritious staples in inner-city neighborhoods on Buffalo’s east and west sides (from their colorful Mobile Marketplace R.V.), providing a venue for culinary entrepreneurs and workshops for small businesses. The MAP building also serves as a community center.

MAP—whose office is now located in the former Northwest Library Branch on Grant Street near Lafayette—operates its urban farm and aquaponics (tilapia fish farming and tomato growing) projects on Massachusetts Avenue in their hand-hewn straw bale house, and has a community kitchen at Colonial Circle.

Growing Green is MAP’s largest project; it employs West Side youths in the community garden after school. The students learn about organic farming practices, collaboration, nutrition, production, sales, and marketing.

Farm to School, a curriculum created by MAP staff members, is another outreach program, this one involving WNY farmers and representatives from Wegmans supermarket. Through workshops and field trips, Farm to School creates awareness about healthy food choices, cooking versus buying food, composting, what farmers do, and other food-related issues.

The organization is also funded from diverse sources, including food sales, individual donations, the John R. Oishei Foundation, the Western New York Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo, Key Bank, HSBC, First Niagara Bank, and many other sources—testimony to its success and universal appeal.

This inspirational Buffalo success story has positively impacted hundreds of lives, and greatly enhanced its West Side neighborhood.

The urban food desert

By Nancy J. Parisi

Deli photo by Nancy J. Parisi.

Ask an inner-city resident of the east or west side where they buy fruits and vegetables and chances are you’ll be met with a blank stare. Teens report that their mothers take them on buses to grocery stores not in their neighborhood, while others point to their bustling corner store and say, “I buy food here.”

Inside the average corner deli is a hefty array of candies, junk foods, frozen and canned staples, and perhaps a deli counter making sandwiches. A recent foray into dozens of inner-city corner shops claiming “full line grocery” items (there is one every five blocks, on average) revealed that most have little in the way of unprepared foods. Out of approximately thirty corner stores, only a scant four sold (sad-looking) onions and garlic. One in ten will carry lemons, tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers—of varying degrees of freshness.

While Buffalonians in more affluent neighborhoods pat themselves on the back for having access to several well-stocked supermarkets and affordable and international specialty stores, there are vast stretches of the city without a single place to purchase produce or other healthful food choices: these areas have been dubbed “food deserts” by sociologists. Many car-less city dwellers rely on taxis, an inefficient metro system, and walking to go food shopping, wrangling children, bags, and patience.

The opening of a PriceRite supermarket in long-closed digs on Elmwood in Stuyvesant Plaza created pandemonium, indicating a community need for further grocery shopping options—especially on major bus routes. A survey of offerings on the east side is sobering: the IGA at Jefferson and Broadway in Towne Gardens Plaza features limp produce, understocked shelves, and expanses of frozen meals. There is an adequate Tops on Jefferson at Riley, and the minimal, if inexpensive, Save-a-Lot in the Broadway Market, but little else.

If healthful choices were to be found on inner-city corner grocery shelves, would they be eaten? As Michele Obama tackles the issue of childhood obesity with the “Let’s Move” initiative and school cafeterias are on the popular media radar, it’s time to take note of what is not being sold within our city. And this is not just an inner-city issue: downtown apartment dwellers have no food markets in their neighborhood. The Washington Market on Ellicott Street has pantry essentials, a deli counter, and meager produce choices. The city can—and should—do a better job of encouraging more grocery stores within the city. Fantasy: a downtown Guercio’s or a smaller, boutique Wegmans. Those who cook for themselves will cheer.


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