Partner Profile: DC Greens
In this Resource Spotlight, we hear from Aparna Raj, Communications & Marketing Manager of DC Greens, to learn about how they have transitioned from being an organization focused on increasing access to fresh produce, to a “food justice” organization that works to address the root causes of inequitable access to healthy food in the nation’s capital.
DC Greens Background:
Mission: Our mission is to advance food justice and health equity in the nation’s capital. We are working towards a city where food education is on the menu in every classroom; where doctors write prescriptions for fresh fruits and vegetables as a matter of course; where urban agriculture is a valued element of the cityscape; and where zip code doesn’t not determine life expectancy.
Give us your elevator pitch!
We believe that healthy food is a basic human right. DC Greens was formed in 2009 to increase access to fresh produce and increase food education in classrooms across the city. As the organization grew, we became more focused on how structural racism has led to disparities in food access and subsequent health outcomes across DC. There’s a 17-year difference in life expectancy between the most affluent neighborhoods and the lowest-income neighborhoods, largely due to diet-related chronic illnesses. This caused us to shift to being a “food justice” organization in 2017, committed to addressing these barriers and shifting power to impacted communities through our work.
What is one thing that makes your organization stand out?
Rather than focusing on short-term solutions to hunger, DC Greens seeks to change systems and address food insecurity. We recognize that the root causes of food insecurity are tied to income, housing, transportation, and other issues, so we create and manage holistic programs. Our Produce Plus program incorporates community ownership in creating solutions. Our Produce Rx program seeks to address a social determinant of health by embedding food as medicine solutions into our health care system and our upcoming urban farm will serve as a holistic wellness space, promoting nutrition education alongside community events.
Are there any organizations or individuals you look to as a role model in your work? Why? (Name just two please!)
Because we work in so many sectors and work with so many different orgs, it was really hard to narrow this down to just two. I opened it up to staff and they all had so many suggestions – next question, please!
A real systems-oriented organization 😊 Perfect segue into the next section -- Systems Leadership Approach
How does DC Greens partner with others to catalyze systems change?
When DC Greens was first founded, we looked around and saw people across all different sectors - doctors, teachers, farmers markets, grocers, developers, government officials, residents living in food insecure households - wanting to make a change in their communities. We work to convene those different groups for systems change. One example of this is our Produce Rx program, which integrates food as medicine into our longer term health care system by working with Medicaid providers to provide patients with prescriptions for fresh fruit and vegetables. We work closely with the Giant Food store in SE DC, clinics across the city, Medicaid providers, and data firm Socially Determined, who is proving out the return on investment of the program on patient utilization of the health care system.
DC Greens Learnings:
Given what you know now, what is one thing you wish you’d done differently as the organization developed?
We probably would have focused on integrating justice and community ownership into our work earlier. It’s much easier to start with those concepts as core guiding principles in developing programming, rather than shifting to incorporate those principles into already existing programs. However, we have strived to embed those values into our work. We established a Food Champion program to supplement our Produce Plus program. Food Champions work within their own neighborhoods to make farmers markets more accessible and provide information about additional food resources. Our Community Advocates Program provides resources, trainings, and connections to build power and create change in their communities.
What is one of DC Greens’ proudest achievements?
The Produce Plus program is a DC Department of Health program that provides eligible DC residents with funds to purchase fresh produce at local farmers markets. We have administered the program for years, but one of the proudest moments for the program was in 2016 when it was established as a stable budget line in the DC budget for years moving forward. We coordinated with Produce Plus customers who came out in such force to advocate for this program and tell the city how important the funding was, and the city responded by listening to the customers and incorporating it.
What is one challenge you’re facing right now? Anything your fellow FSLN members might be able to help with?
It can sometimes be difficult to articulate the need of long-term systems change. People have an easier time conceptualizing immediate, short-term solutions to hunger rather than tackling the larger problem of food insecurity. It can be a challenge to articulate why systems change is necessary to truly tackle food insecurity and advance food justice.
Any quotes or words of wisdom that you find inspiring during this season?
Reverend Dr. Heber Brown III (a fellow FSLN member!) is another figure that we look up to quite a bit, and he often says that “the smartest person in the room is the room.” Solutions should be collective and collaborative and should be informed by all different groups of people. We take that concept to heart in our work as we focus on convening people across sectors and working together to find innovative solutions to increasing food security and improving health equity.
Have you created any useful processes/resources that you’re particularly excited about? If so, please share!
The Well at Oxon Run is our planned urban farm and community wellness space in Oxon Run Park in DC’s Ward 8. It’s the result of two years of collective visioning sessions with other community-based organizations, DC Government, and residents of Ward 8. Once it’s created, The Well will be collectively run and programmed by this same group of people. It has been such a joy to cocreate this space with residents of the neighborhoods around the park, and we want to continue to embed community ownership and collaboration into all of our processes.