Photo by LeJohn Montgomery
LaDonna Redmond became a food activist in 2002 after her son, Wade, was diagnosed with food allergies.
Once Wade was diagnosed at around 7 months, Redmond found it impossible to get the proper foods her son needed. He was allergic to lots of things: shellfish, dairy products, eggs, processed foods and peanuts.
Wade needed organic foods, and they weren’t in her community. That led her on a journey around Chicago to find the proper nutrients—essentially organic substances—that Wade needed. Redmond researched the food system, and was appalled at what she discovered.
She found that many foods contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and that many are grown with pesticides.
GMO’s are organisms genetically altered using molecular genetic techniques, such as gene cloning and protein engineering. Although some scientists claim that GMOs are safe, environmental activists have protested that GMO crops are unnatural and therefore unsafe.
“Since then, I’ve became an advocate of food access,” she says. Her findings led her to become one of the founders of urban agriculture movement in Chicago.
On June 19, Redmond and her partner, Will Seegars, opened the only grocery store in the Englewood area, Graffiti and Grub, at 59th Street and Wentworth Avenue. Graffiti and Grub, whose philosophy is expressed by the acronym S.O.U.L. (Sustainable, Organic, Urban and Living Food Systems), is a performance space and store concept, bringing flavor and positive energy to the Englewood community by working with youth and getting them involved in the project. Redmond and Seegars work together to bring a healthier lifestyle to the hip-hop generation.
Seegars is a hip-hop teacher. He works with Redmond to get children to join their Summer Youth Gardening Project, which teaches them how to grow their own food. They also educate the youth on the food system and raise awareness of what isn’t known about the food system. So far, they’re working with about 25 kids, planting gardens and teaching them to build a healthier lifestyle.
“People don’t like being told what to eat,” Redmond says. She says people don’t like being told how to live, so they dismiss the idea of being told what they’re eating isn’t good for them. “Primarily [it’s] people of color," she says. People are ignorant about where their food comes from and its impact on their health.
There are no major-chain grocery stores in the Englewood community. It has been dubbed a “food desert,” void of viable groceries for miles, making it difficult for residents to buy and eat healthy foods. Redmond says she doesn’t like the term “food desert” because good things can come from deserts too.
Visiting the area around 59th and Wentworth, this reporter found a Walgreens pharmacy and a liquor store. The fruits and vegetables at these stores, if they have them at all, aren’t as ripe as they would be in a major-chain grocery store such as Jewel or ALDI. And they can be very expensive.
On July 23, Redmond missed a meeting with the Green in the City team of reporters and photographers. When reached by phone, she was in her car, rushing to Springfield to talk to Carolyn Brown Hodge, the governor's deputy chief-of-staff, about receiving a grant from the state to help out her store. Funding such endeavors is always an issue.
Asked whether she’d open other grocery stores in other areas, Redmond replied: “It depends on the interest of the community. Sure, if the community accepted the idea, then I would gladly open another store.”