The enrollment for the D.C.-area CSA jumped from 150 to 1,200 in 2020.
Portrait of Chris Bradshaw

In 2008, Chris Bradshaw set out to remedy a problem he saw in his Washington, D.C., community—namely, that fresh produce was scarce in the district's Black neighborhoods, while sugary, fatty convenience foods proliferated. He kept encountering an income gap. White wealth in the D.C. metro area, he points out, is 81 times that of Black wealth. Centuries of violent dispossession and discrimination have left Black farmers without land to farm, left Black neighborhoods without grocery stores, and left Black families with higher rates of high blood pressure, diabetes and other health problems.

Food, Bradshaw found, can be a potent tool for addressing both poor health and poverty, if you create an ecosystem of support. That's exactly what his nonprofit, Dreaming Out Loud, aims to do. Bradshaw launched a CSA that provides fresh fruits and vegetables, grown largely by local Black farmers, at 20 sites in the District, with a focus on low-income communities in Wards 7 and 8, and it accepts SNAP benefits (aka food stamps). So do the program's twice-weekly farmers' markets. Dreaming Out Loud also runs a 2-acre farm next to Kelly Miller Middle School in Ward 7 that offers gardening and cooking programs and has an on-site hub that distributes some of the produce it grows to nonprofits and community groups. The organization's Dream Program, a 16-week food-business boot camp run out of the hub, has helped dozens of low-resourced Black entrepreneurs start food businesses, and Bradshaw's advocacy on the D.C. Food Policy Council has shaped local laws promoting urban gardens and small food businesses, as well.

"Ending food deserts, expanding access to fresh, local produce, empowering communities to create opportunities that fight hunger and poverty, educating future generations to be champions for healthy neighborhoods—all of this is possible if we think boldly and act compassionately, just like Chris," says celebrity chef José Andrés, founder of World Central Kitchen and a 2017 American Food Hero, who nominated Bradshaw for this year's award.

Andrés and Bradshaw's organizations joined forces this year when COVID-19 exacted a particularly brutal toll—both economically and physically—on D.C.'s Black residents. WCK volunteers and Dream Program participants provided more than 250,000 meals to feed hungry neighbors in 2020 and early 2021. Dreaming Out Loud handled the logistics (like hiring people to help in the effort) and distribution, and its farmer network supplied ingredients. The effort brought jobs and $350,000 into the community, Bradshaw says, supporting four Black-women-owned businesses and their 15 workers. Meanwhile, enrollment in the CSA spiked from 150 families to 1,200 in 2020.

For Bradshaw, receiving that extra funding as his community suffered was bittersweet. The health and wealth gaps persist—but so does his resolve to continue blazing this path. "We want to be able to better build out this ecosystem where we can channel resources to food makers and Black farmers," he says. Andrés has no doubt he will. "Chris is a true food fighter," he says, "and that's been the case long before the pandemic."

This article first appeared in EatingWell, July/August 2021.