Several weeks ago I attended the TIME/ABC News Obesity Summit. I’ve written about that, about the experts who gathered, presented, postured. I mentioned some good news that came out of the conference. The good news came packaged in people.
The conference organizers, perhaps wise to the outcome of the conference even before it occurred, chose to intersperse expert presentations with presentations by “Heroes,” or people in the trenches who are doing astonishing work at the neighborhood-, community-, and state-wide level to sow real changes, reap real results in raising conciousness about our need for more exercise and better nutrition. I’m going to present as many of the heroes as I can over the next few months, hoping that what they are doing can inspire more people to find creative ways to encourage great health.
I’ll start with two women. I like the idea of presenting these two together because they kind of bookend the country, one at work in New York, and the other in California. One very young, the other more seasoned. I saw the two of them embrace between sessions, in the aisles, and I could feel us all in the middle of that embrace, sandwiched right between these two great hearts. It’s good these days to remind ourselves that there are good people in our world who work for the well-being of others. What a relief. That image, of these two women embracing one another, is the hope I carried from the conference.
These women are Majora Carter of Sustainable South Bronx, and Alice Waters of The Edible Schoolyard.
Majora Carter is founder and executive director of Sustainable South Bronx, whose mission is sustainable development of the South Bronx neighborhood. The South Bronx is designated as an “environmental justice neighborhood,” meaning that through a lack of care in land management and planning, the people who live there are exposed to too much environmental stress and given too little within their environment to promote their health and well-being. Carter’s organization chooses projects that meet the needs of her community’s members and and works to provide environmental justice. Her work has brought many accolades and honors from environmental protection groups and leadership groups. But more importantly, her work makes her neighborhood better, more livable for her neighbors.
She showcased in particular an effort to develop a greenbelt through the South Bronx neighborhoods that will give residents safe, green places to walk, run, and play. “Pedestrian seductive” places, she says. Sounds simple in theory, looks logical on the plans and in the sketches, but the monumental effort of managing all the transactions and fundraising, the planning meetings and deals that will make this project work is awesome. Held against a backdrop of all of this organization’s projects, it’s humbling. They could use your support. Visit http://www.ssbx.org to show it.
On the other side of the nation, you’ll find chef Alice Waters, most well known as the culinary genius behind Berkeley’s Chez Panisse restaurant and a national voice in behalf of farmers’ markets and bringing organic, local food to the general public. (She also holds office with Slow Food International, the folks who promote consumption and promotion of local artisanal food traditions). Waters founded the Chez Panisse Foundation to help fund her pet project, The Edible Schoolyard.
The Edible Schoolyard encourages schools to make School Lunch a part of the core academic curriculum. Her pilot program, which has been operating for years at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, integrates gardening, harvesting, cooking, serving, and sharing the daily school lunch. It’s not hard to see what rich lessons these activities can offer young kids. Waters and her foundation are working hard to support the Edible Schoolyard pilot program and to help seed the program in other communities. Well worth a visit to her website to get a glimpse of what goes on there, http://www.edibleschoolyard.org. Can it work in your schools too?
Okay. There are two heroes. We need more. Big ones and small ones. Copycats and original thinkers, working in every neighborhood and community. Got ideas? Need advice or funding? Consider contacting the public health officials in your state government for help and guidance.