By Gretchen Kell
With the gusto of wine enthusiasts in a tasting room, Philip Stark and Tom Carlson eye, sniff and sample their selections, pronouncing them “robust,” “lovely,” “voluptuous” — and even “just beyond words.” The undergraduate students with them flock close, curious.
The group is far from a trendy winery or upscale farmer’s market. Instead, gathered at the forlorn corner of Sycamore Avenue and South 45th St. in Richmond, they’re in the heart of a food desert, an area without easy access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. Yet, in this low-income neighborhood, with more liquor and fast-food shops than grocery stores, there’s a bounty of goodness thriving in some unlikely places — a parched lawn, sidewalk cracks, along a chain link fence.
And from the looks of it, that bounty is composed almost entirely of … weeds.
“Yes, these are weeds,” acknowledges Carlson, an ethnobotanist and a tenured lecturer in the Department of Integrative Biology, happily munching on a low-lying edible called cat’s ear. “But many of these were brought to America long ago by immigrants from Europe and Asia who used them for foods and medicines. There are high rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in these food deserts, and study after study shows the benefits of eating more leafy greens. These are available and nutritious and free.” … Continue reading »