The U.S. is nothing if not a nation of paradoxes. Consider these statistics from Daniel Imhoff’s new book, Food Fight: Americans spend $110 billion annually on illnesses caused by obesity, but nearly 40 million people (12 percent of all households) grapple with “food insecurity”—that means they often experience hunger or need to skip meals to get by. A lot of those people are children. There are many reasons for these extremes, and one of them is a dysfunctional government commodity subsidy system that makes high-fat, sugar saturated crap cheaper than healthy whole foods. So even when people who struggle with hunger do get access to food, it’s often the kind that impoverishes them nutritionally. It’s one of the reasons obesity rates are often highest in low-income communities. As journalist Andrew Martin writes, “That disparity points out an awkward truth about the USDA: what it urges people to eat to remain healthy does not match what it pays farmers to grow.” One way to deal with this problem is to reform federal agriculture policy and make the 2007 Farm Bill a true “food and farm” bill. There is also a more immediate, localized way to bring some sanity back into the food and farming system: support Harvest for the Hungry.
When Gary Brever was working in a Catholic Worker House near Olympia, Wash., in the late 1990s, he saw the kind of products low-income people brought back from the foodshelves. “Many times the foodshelves are into quantity, but the quality isn’t always there,” Brever told me recently. “People staying at the shelter would come home from the foodshelf with a lot of corn syrup and sugar-based canned foods and cereals. These products are not good for their minds, their spirits or their bodies.” I can vouch for that: my son’s Cub Scout pack recently collected goods for a local foodshelf—we amassed a mountain of mac and cheese that day.
Now that he’s operating a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) produce farm in western Minnesota, Brever is working to improve the quality of what’s offered at area foodshelves. Brever’s Ploughshare Farm has joined forces with the Emergency Foodshelf Network of Minnesota to launch Harvest for the Hungry. This is an expansion of an initiative Ploughshare launched a few years ago called the “Food For Folk Project.” In that case, members of Brever’s CSA operation could buy extra vegetable shares that were then distributed to food shelves and Augsburg College’s Campus Kitchens program, which provides healthy meals and snacks to social service agencies that serve low-income seniors, children and families in Minneapolis.
Now Brever and Minnesota’s Emergency Foodshelf Network have recruited eight other CSA farms to provide top quality, nutritious organic food for hunger relief. Harvest for the Hungry is one of those initiatives that could help people on both ends of the food chain, while creating a sense of community in between. According to the Emergency Foodshelf Network, often the most desired and least available foods requested by its clients are perishable items like produce and animal products. In places like the Upper Midwest, we don’t have a shortage of food production, but we do lack good ways of getting that food distributed fairly. Farmers parterning with foodshelves is a way to fill some key nutritional gaps.
Harvest for the Hungry will get nutritious food to low-income people while supporting farms that are using organic, environmenally-friendly methods to produce that food. The Twin Cities region is blessed with a strong community of top-rate CSA farms, and their healthy bounty shouldn’t be limited to a select few. At the peak of the growing season, most CSA farms produce an overabundance of food; this program can help make sure it doesn’t go to waste.
This is where you come in. Harvest for the Hungry needs financial donations so that the farms can be paid for their food. That food will then be distributed to foodshelves and on-site meal programs for free. To make a tax-deductible donation, click here and go to the “Harvest for the Hungry” link. On that page, you can select which CSA farm you would like the food purchased from (you can also choose to have the purchase split among all of the farms).
For more information, contact Pat Kerrigan, transportation coordinator for the Emergency Foodshelf Network, at 763-450-3867 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To have people going hungry in the midst of another super-abundant Midwestern growing season is nothing short of criminal. Harvest for the Hungry, and any programs it may spawn, could help inject a little mealtime justice into our food and farming system.