Why I Do What I Do:
LaDonna Redmond,
President and CEO,
Institute for Community Resource Development

Could limited access to healthy, organic foods be one reason why blacks and residents of low-income areas are the most susceptible to diet-related illnesses, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer? In an effort to bring better food to her own Chicago neighborhood, three years ago LaDonna Redmond started the Institute for Community Resource Development. Not only has the organization brought organic farmers' markets to the urban Chicago community of Austin, the group also helps residents plant organic gardens and has developed a community-owned cooperative grocery store.

Q: Does the prevalence of unhealthy food cause your community's health problems?

A: Four kids have had strokes and died in the Austin community, and two have had heart attacks. These are children under 12 years. Just the idea of children having these adult problems is discouraging. We think it has to do with the lack of access to healthy food. We know what's true for adults—that a high-fat diet makes you fat and sick. So it has to be true for kids, too.

Q: What keeps you going despite the challenges?

A: Here, I could get McDonald's or Kentucky Fried Chicken, but I couldn't get an organic tomato. And if I could buy white bread in this community, why couldn't I buy whole-grain bread? The perception is that people who have money deserve better and that there is no money here for organic food. But food prices are already 40 percent higher in poor neighborhoods, so paying premium prices for organic food is not that much different. My passion is that this choice be available, without question.

Q: How do you get your message out?

A: We haven't run into people who didn't understand the importance of this issue, although a belief seems to be out there that people of color are less concerned about the environment and land stewardship. But people of color come largely from agricultural backgrounds. Folks have always grown food in their backyards. We are now expanding on that and converting large, vacant spaces into urban farms. Rather than allowing developers to put expensive housing on the land, we are using the plots to create access to healthier food.

—Leah Samuel