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Food Deserts and Food Policy: A Case Study of Washington, DC

October 23, 2013

food desert

According to the USDA, the 2008 Farm Bill defined a 'food desert' as an area in the United States with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, "particularly such an area composed of predominantly lower-income neighborhoods and communities."

In this panel, panelists reviewed the socio-economic factors that create food deserts and discussed the work of those who local sustainability efforts in food production and distribution, reverse nutritional poverty, and ensure local food security. Panelists also discussed how local policy is shaped in response to national best practices and shared their program's initiatives.

This event took place simultaneously in NYC and Washington, DC. Carolyn Dimitri, Associate Professor of Food Studies at NYU Steinhardt led a short discussion after the NYC watch party.

Sweetgreen generously donated two $50 giftcards, and two lucky attendees won the raffle!

Watch the program...

Lauren Biel

Lauren Biel

Victoria Kiechel

Victoria Kiechel

Mike Curtain

Mike Curtain


Marland Buckner

Pam Hess

Pam Hess

Thanks to our sponsor



Victoria Kiechel

Victoria Kiechel has 20 years of professional experience in architecture, education, and sustainable design. A practicing architect, she works for the Cadmus Group, Inc., an environmental consultancy, and is an adjunct faculty member of the Global Environmental Politics Program, the School of International Service, American University (AU), in Washington, DC. In 2010, she was the inaugural recipient of AU’s Most Innovative Green Teacher of the Year award. At Cadmus, Vicky has worked for the US Green Building Council to develop and support the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Rating Systems; advises the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) ENERGY STAR commercial and industrial branch; leads consulting and review teams for buildings seeking LEED certification; and manages sustainability initiatives for clients as diverse as the Smithsonian Institution and state and local governments. She is project manager and technical lead for the 2012 redevelopment of ENERGY STAR for Buildings training resources. Her Cadmus research work includes her roles as primary author of Planning and Financing Energy Efficient Infrastructure in Appalachia, for the Appalachian Regional Commission (released March, 2012), and co-Principal Investigator of Cadmus’ Water Management and Green Building Rating Systems 2009-2010 study for the Electric Power Research Institute. Her architectural design work focuses on small-to-medium scale residential and institutional projects. For the Washington, DC Capitol Hill School Libraries Project, she designed the library for Maury Elementary School. Victoria Kiechel, AIA and LEED AP ND, BD+C, O+M, ID+C, Homes


Marland Buckner

With over 20 years of policy and political experience, Marland Buckner serves as Founder and Principal of Global Strategic Partners. Buckner founded the firm with an eye to providing clients with an interdisciplinary approach unique to public affairs. In this capacity Buckner has worked with clients across a range of sectors including technology, energy, education, and agriculture.

Prior to founding Global Strategic Partners, Buckner served for seven years as Director of Federal Government Affairs for Microsoft Corporation in Washington D.C. During his tenure at Microsoft, Buckner worked closely with senior leadership and executive staff to integrate Microsoft's philanthropic, policy, and political efforts. He helped develop and lead policy advocacy for the company's Entertainment and Devices division as well as other efforts critical to the company, including high-skilled immigration, workforce development, and education policy.

Before his tenure at Microsoft, Buckner served in several staff roles in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, including as Legislative Assistant to Senator Charles Schumer as well as Senior Policy Advisor and Chief of Staff to then-Congressman Harold Ford Jr. Buckner has also served as a policy analyst at two think tanks based in Washington D.C.: The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and the Progressive Policy Institute. Buckner's writing has appeared in a variety of publications, and he frequently serves as a commentator and panelist on policy and political issues.

Buckner earned his Bachelor's degree in political science and history and his Master's Degrees in history from the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, and completed his doctoral examinations at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. He also holds a certificate in Business Administration from Georgetown University.

Buckner serves on the board of the Washington D.C. Coalition for the Homeless, Potomac College, and Common Market, a Philadelphia-based, mission-driven, local food distributor.

Lauren Shweder Biel

Lauren Shweder Biel is the Executive Director of DC Greens. Before moving to Washington, DC and founding DC Greens, Lauren worked at Sesame Workshop in the International Education, Research and Outreach department. In her three years at Sesame Workshop, she oversaw the creation of new co-productions in Brazil and Northern Ireland, coordinating outreach efforts, crafting curricula and supervising formative and summative research with local partners. Lauren has a B.A. from Princeton University, and an M.Phil. in Anthropology from NYU with a focus on Culture and Media. Lauren is the mother of two future DCPS students, and serves on the Mayor’s Commission for Healthy Youth in Schools.

Mike Curtin

After graduating from Williams College in 1986 with a BA in Religion, Mike lived and worked in Osaka, Japan for three years as a teacher, copywriter for a Japanese advertising firm, and bartender at his neighborhood pub. Upon returning to the United States, Mike began a 20 year career in the hospitality business, which included owning and operating his own restaurant, The Broad Street Grill in Falls Church Virginia, before joining DC Central Kitchen in 2004.

Drawing on his experiences as an entrepreneur in the restaurant business, Mike has spent significant time expanding the Kitchen’s revenue generating social enterprise initiatives. Under his leadership, DC Central Kitchen’s Fresh Start Catering has expanded from traditional catering opportunities to include contracts to provide locally-sourced, scratched-cooked meals to schools in DC. This is an extension of a program that the Kitchen started in 2007, using locally-sourced product to provide school meals to Washington Jesuit Academy, a middle school for at-risk boys in Northeast Washington, DC. Over the last five years, DC Central Kitchen has generated nearly half of what it costs to run all of the Kitchen’s programs through fee-for-service contracts, catering, and other social enterprise ventures. Because of these and DC Central Kitchen’s many other social service programs, the Kitchen now employs over 130 people, approximately 40% of whom are graduates of the Kitchen’s nationally recognized Culinary Job Training Program.

In order to secure sustainable, healthy food for the Kitchen, Mike has developed strategic partnerships to purchase unclassified produce from local farms. This initiative has saved money and employed more graduates of the Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training Program. The Kitchen’s new focus on procuring local produce garnered a Mayor’s Environmental Excellence Award and the Washington Business Journal’s Green Business Award for Innovation in 2010.

These programs, as well as many others, will continue to grow as a result of DC Central Kitchen’s Nutrition Lab facility, which was funded and opened under Mike’s leadership. The new space has allowed DCCK to take on more contracts, rapidly increase investments in purchasing from local farms, and improve the efficiency of production. Additionally, the lessons learned at the Nutrition Lab are helping to improve the production and distribution of the 5,000 meals DC Central Kitchen provides each day to social service agencies throughout the community. Most recently, this led to the Kitchen’s Healthy Corners Program that delivers fresh fruits and vegetables to corner stores in the City’s food deserts. The DC Chamber of Commerce gave DC Central Kitchen its 2012 Community Impact Award in recognition of its many innovative programs.

Mike has spoken on the Kitchen’s many innovative programs at the Social Enterprise Alliance Conference, the World Social Enterprise Summit, and the Social Capital Conference. He has also been a featured speaker at Georgetown University, the Yale Sustainable Food Program, Williams College, the Darden School of Business, and many other academic institutions across the country.

Mike is a Chair Emeritus of the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington and a Board Member for The Common Market in Philadelphia. He also is on the Advisory Board of DC Greens, the Leadership Council of DC Hunger Solutions, and an Advisory Board for the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School.

Mike was honored as the Gael of the Year in DC’s 2012 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in recognition of his significant contributions to the community. In December of 2011, he was awarded the Pedro Arrupe Award by Gonzaga College High School, his alma mater, in recognition of his work with DC Central Kitchen. Mike was previously honored by Gonzaga College High School with the St. Aloysius Medal and by the Ignatian Volunteer Corps with the Della Strada Award for his commitment to the Jesuit ideals of social justice. He is a recipient of the 2010 Gelman, Rosenberg & Freedman EXCEL Award for excellence in chief executive leadership.

Mike lives with his wife Maureen and their three children, Maeve, Michael III and Ciara, in Falls Church, VA.

Pam Hess

Pamela comes to Arcadia from Flavor and Foodshed, magazines that focused on increasing the demand for, and the availability of, local, sustainable food in the Capital Foodshed. She cut her teeth in Washington as a career national security journalist -- with side trips to Afghanistan and Iraq -- and a brief foray into politics on Capitol Hill. She brings to Arcadia a deep commitment to its mission, a large and expanding network of farmers and food advocates, and a great reputation within the sustainable food community.

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