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Bike parade launches map of healthy food for South LA

More than 70 riders handed out copies of the Healthy Food map as they biked through South Los Angeles. (Photo/Courtesy of Ride South LA)

A new map spotlighting healthy eating markets, community gardens, urban mini-farms and cafés in South Los Angeles was released March 3 during a community bike ride organized by a coalition of community groups and researchers at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

The map demonstrates that healthy eating and living is possible in South LA, with biking and walking routes to gardens and food access.

The partners behind the map pointed to a broad social agenda — from city planning to social change advocacy. They suggested that social change only happens if the maps are integrated into the community’s storytelling network. Integration with the community is a key goal for the research, under the USC Annenberg banner of “The Laboratory on the Social Frontier” (LOSF), which connects theory and practice in LA.

Community organizations that joined LOSF members for this ride included T.R.U.S.T. South LA, Community Services Unlimited (CSU), as well as the East Side Riders Bike Club and Los Ryderz, two bicycle clubs in South LA that united as United Riders for the event. All have been long-term partners within the Ride South LA collective.

More than 70 riders handed out copies of the map as they biked through South LA, touring the neighborhood’s healthy food hot spots in a musical bike parade, and delivering a dozen healthy food baskets to local families.

One highlight was the group’s visit to Mama’s Chicken on Slauson Avenue at 4th Avenue, where owner Karen Whitman has been selling organic produce grown on CSU’s urban mini-farm for many years. Riders also met with volunteer gardeners from Common Vision, who were tending to fruit trees in a school orchard at Normandie Elementary School.

The map was developed after a series of exploratory bicycle rides and walks. To gather text and photos for the map, organizers walked and biked with South LA community leaders, teenagers and children through the community, as they discovered and documented organic community gardens and healthy places to eat. The participants uploaded photos directly from the cameras on their basic cellphones, using the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab platform called ParTour, which was developed by Professor François Bar and ParTour researchers.

“We uncovered a seldom told story: There are a lot of places in South Los Angeles where we can get healthy food, and there are safe ways to get there if you don’t have a car. Our map encourages people to look at options that are right there in their neighborhood,” Bar said.

Organizers held a community workshop to sift through the pictures and stories and work with CicLAvia graphic designer Colleen Corcoran to turn the stream of pictures into a custom map.

“My hope is that this map will allow us to bring to light some of the many efforts to address food access in South Los Angeles,” said Tafarai Bayne of T.R.U.S.T. South LA. “Both visitors and residents can use the map to find all kinds of local resources, some obvious and some not so. This map helps go beyond what’s not working to reveal positive stories about South Los Angeles.”

CSU, a second partner organization, is primarily focused on food, health and sustainable communities.

“This map is an amazing tool for accessing the innovative efforts that have emerged from within South LA to counteract the overwhelmingly bleak reality of our food environment,” said Neelam Sharma, CSU executive director.

The coalition designed the project centered on the core belief that knowledge about neighborhoods is most authentic and powerful when it comes from the community. That approach in research seeks to identify community and communication assets, drawing on the Communication Infrastructure Theory of the USC Annenberg Metamorphosis project. High-tech features included iPads mounted to roving bikes to monitor incoming pictures, but the project also supports basic cellphones — anything that can take pictures, Bar said.

This is the second South LA map produced by Ride SouthLA partners. They first mapped a bike ride from Augustus Hawkins Nature Park to the iconic Watts Towers.

Moving forward, the Ride South LA team plans to map other LA neighborhoods, enlist grassroots organizations and residents to distribute the maps widely, and continue to engage the South LA community to deepen its neighborhood storytelling networks.

The creation of the map was made possible by the Annenberg Innovation Lab and a grant from the USC Neighborhood Outreach program.

Ride South LA is a coalition of organizations that bring bicycling, mobile mapping and social justice to South LA.

T.R.U.S.T. South LA was established in 2005 as a permanent and democratic steward of land in South LA that works toward community-focused development. The organization recently partnered with CicLAvia and a number of community stakeholders to bring CicLAvia to South LA and now works toward the expansion of safe biking and pedestrian facilities.

CSU, which was established in 1977, is headquartered in South LA. Over more than three decades, it has created community programs and organizing campaigns, including Safe Seniors and the most recently announced From the Ground Up. CSU’s mission is to foster the creation of communities actively working to address the inequalities and systemic barriers that make sustainable communities and self-reliant lifestyles unattainable.

LOSF advances scholarly participatory research and applies it in practical strategies that foster civic engagement and enable communities to represent themselves. The lab melds communication research with journalism while strengthening links between academics and practitioners. It also encourages interdisciplinary collaboration within USC Annenberg, across USC and with communities in Los Angeles.

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