Women’s group fights food insecurity in South Phoenix

PHOENIX – Maria Parra Cano vividly remembers the moment she decided to help shape the Phoenix 2025 Food Action Plan, whose five goals include healthy diets for all and strengthening the local economy.

In the fall of 2018, Cano was at Maryvale Community Center in West Phoenix talking about amaranth, an ancient grain with medicinal properties, when a mother asked where she could find it.

“It’s a problem because I shouldn’t have to go to six different places just to put this food on the table,” Cano recalled telling the band. “You can only find amaranth like this at Whole Foods, and there’s none nearby.”

Cano, 40, a native of Phoenix with Mexican and indigenous roots, made his living preparing traditional indigenous dishes to heal and heal the body. In 2018, she founded Sana Sana Foods, which promotes “food medicine for the people”.

Today, she is one of the developers of the Phoenix 2025 Food Action Plan, which includes specific efforts for South Phoenix. The plan promotes local food systems and works to create healthy communities south of the Salt River, a part of Phoenix that is largely made up of people of color, many with immigrant roots.

In 2017, the Phoenix Office of Environmental Programs applied for assistance through the Local Foods, Local Places program, funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The goal was to develop a food action plan that would promote healthy living and increase economic opportunity for local farmers and businesses.

The food plan developers are a diverse group of women, all from community organizations and different backgrounds, but with some sort of connection to South Phoenix.
For Cano, that connection came from catering meals for Sana Sana.

Amelia García, who is also part of the group, has taken her own approach, the South Phoenix Healthy Start and Backyard Food Farm. For her, contributing to the action plan means more than just providing her family with a healthy source of food.

“If we focus more on the foods we eat, we’ll change health outcomes, infant mortality rates, and crime rates, just by changing our eating habits,” she said.

South Phoenix is ​​widely known for its rich use of farmland and has a history of environmental justice issues due to structural racism. However, over the years, in this area and other parts of the Phoenix metro area, agricultural production has declined significantly. According to the Phoenix Food Action Plan, acres of farmland have been replaced with miles of auto salvage and manufacturing yards.

More than 75% of Maricopa County is considered a “food desert” or “food apartheid,” according to the Phoenix Office of Sustainability, “where residents are more than a mile away from fresh, healthy food.” South Phoenix falls into this category.

According to The Pew Charitable Trusts study “Assessing the Health Impact of Transit in South-Central Neighborhoods”, South-Central Phoenix has only seven grocery stores within half a mile from Central Avenue, Broadway to Baseline Roads.

Isabel García, a social worker for Child Crisis Arizona and a South Phoenix resident who also contributed to the food plan, said factors such as the cost of transportation were major contributors to the problem of food inaccessibility. This disparity is just one example of how South Phoenix has been deprived for decades, she added.

“We’ve been intentionally kept away because of racism and systemic oppression, we’ve been kept away from healthy foods, and the big supermarket chains have no incentive to come to South Phoenix. “, Garcia said.

Cano’s passion for ancient Native foods is what led her to join the plan and why she continues to serve the people of South Phoenix. She initially catered for planning meetings, but soon attendees asked her to get more involved and give a presentation on the importance of her food.

During the pandemic, Cano started donating food from his food truck instead of selling it. Every Monday, with the Native Connections organization and the Cihuapactli collective, she prepares packages of natural organic food and personal care to deliver to people in need.

“We know there’s a problem with food accessibility, and the pandemic has intensified that, showing that food systems aren’t working,” Cano said.

Amelia Garciía, in turn, created a farm in her garden, which is why she was chosen to collaborate with Cano and the others on the food action plan.

Healthy foods are the best source of energy for the brain and blood, Garcia said, adding that eating unhealthy foods full of genetically modified organisms can block receptors in the brain, which can lead to poor health. decision making.

“You are what you eat,” she says. “If you’re fast, easy, and cheap, that’s how you’re going to live your life. But if you take the time to grow and understand your food, and nurture your knowledge of what you grow, then you in turn will nurture your spirit.

Under this plan, Phoenix is ​​funding community and local organizations to provide food assistance to families affected by COVID-19 and will continue to do so through 2023.

Preserving farmland and backyards has also been a focus of the plan, and the city has already been able to plant gardens in 100 homes in south and west Phoenix.

The women’s collective that helped shape the Phoenix Food Action Plan will continue to try to eliminate food deserts in Phoenix and address the accessibility issues faced by many people.

For more Cronkite News stories, visit cronkitenews.azpbs.org.

About Alma Ackerman

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