Growing hope in Liberty City’s food desert

Liberty City is one of the most overlooked and underserved areas in Miami-Dade County, known for its poverty and crime. I recently stepped outside my comfort zone to visit the blighted area for a monthly food co-op program organized by the Miami Children’s Initiative (MCI) and the Key Biscayne Community Foundation. Needless to say, I was blown away by the experience.

A resident of Liberty City proudly shows the fresh fruits and vegetables from the co-op.

The Village of Key Biscayne collaborates with MCI because Liberty City is its “sister-city.” Throughout the year the Village donates money, school supplies, clothing and even computer lessons as part of their various sister-city programs. That is where the food co-op idea was born. Key Biscayne resident Pat Molinari saw that Liberty City was lacking fresh fruits and vegetables at an affordable and attainable price and she wanted to make a difference.

READ RELATED: Fresh start: Co-ops offering Liberty City residents healthy, affordable produce in The Miami Herald

Now, twice a month, the Key Biscayne Community Foundation teams up with MCI to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to more than 50 families, a luxury they would not otherwise have. There isn’t much to smile about when driving through Liberty City, but as I approached the purple tents and tables filled brightly colored fruits and veggies, it was as if I entered a new community.

Key Biscayne fresh food co-op
Izegbe Onyango, Pat Molinari and Liberty City resident Tinna at a co-op.

Residents of Liberty City can buy into the co-op for only $2 a family. Kids, parents and grandparents gather at the picnic tables adjacent to the basketball courts where the food is given out in shopping carts. Families who pay the $2 leave with $40-$50 worth of fruits and veggies, an effort that has already begun to help curb childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease in this at-risk community.

Can you imagine life without fruits and veggies? Most of us take these foods for granted, but for more 23 million Americans living in so-called “food deserts”, this is an everyday reality. In fact, there is no grocery store within a 1 mile radius of Liberty City – forcing residents, a large percentage of whom lack transportation, to rely on corner convenience stores and fast food to get by.

The bi-monthly food co-op gives residents the option to eat better and teach their children how to eat right. The families received their food and get to partake in an on-site cooking demonstration.

Everyone who attended left a little fuller and with a smile on their face. This food co-op is doing far more than just filling stomachs, its giving hope. And hey I learned how to make a mean kale peach smoothie! Looking forward to the next one.