I suppose the easy thing to do would be to rail against food deserts, the dearth of fresh produce and other healthy foods for those living in impoverished neighborhoods. Or to enter the debate over whether there are, in fact, food deserts. (A couple of recent studies have suggested that proximity to decent grocery stores isn't the key problem of inner-city nutrition.) But considering Emily Schiffer's photos, I was reminded of Mother Teresa's visit to a housing project on Chicago's West Side in the mid-1980s. What rattled her was not the poverty of the pocketbook. She'd seen worse in India. Rather, it was what she called "the poverty of the spirit."
Looking at Schiffer's photos and talking with people involved in
urban farming, I've come to realize that their efforts have less to do
with providing healthy food than they do with a reclamation of sorts,
taking ownership of their community and their daily lives. Growing Home
is one of Chicago's larger urban farming projects, much of it located in
Englewood, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods. While it harvests
13,000 pounds of vegetables a year on a half-acre site, nearly all are
sold to restaurants and at a farmers market on the city's more
prosperous North Side. But Growing Home has altered the landscape of the
neighborhood—and it employs local residents, many of whom because of
past indiscretions have trouble finding work elsewhere.