I am not an anomaly when it comes to my interest in wanting to help others that are disadvantaged by poverty and as a result are “food insecure”. Food insecurity is defined by the USDA as “is a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.” In Oregon, from 2012-2014, 1 in 6 families were considered to be food insecure, with a portion falling into the “hunger” category (meaning the families would skip meals or eat less to avoid running out of food). The combination of these figures and my community work stirred up thoughts on accessibility, long-term, sustainable solutions, and my own role in combating these issues within my own community. I believe that where and how you volunteer matters. My research question is, are food banks (although admirable and amazing organizations) really helping in terms of getting to the root of food insecurity? Or are community-run projects (community gardens) better suited to provide lasting solutions for the food insecure?
Source 1: Riches, Graham. “Food banks and food security: welfare reform, human rights and social policy. Lessons from Canada?.” Social Policy & Administration 36.6 (2002): 648-663. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.689.8009&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Food banks have often been seen as a leading solution to the hunger crisis in America. This essay compares food banks in the United States to those of Canada, in order to show a mirroring discrepancy in their purpose and usefulness. It discusses the institutionalization of food banks (seen in the US as major corporations donating to receive tax write-offs) and the way governments sort of “put their hands up” when it comes to addressing hunger. The essay discusses the effectiveness of food banks and their inability to reliably meet nutrition standards, as well as their failure to address the “structural causes of food poverty”.
Source 2: Alaimo, Katherine PhD 1, Elizabeth Packnett MPH, Richard A. Miles BS and Daniel J. Kruger PhD, Fruit and Vegetable Intake among Urban Community Gardeners,Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Volume 40, Issue 2, March-April 2008. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1499404606008542
This describes research done to understand if participation in a community garden had any effects on the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables in a household. The results were astonishing: researchers found that “adults with a household member who participated in a community garden consumed fruits and vegetables 1.4 more times per day than those who did not participate, and they were 3.5 times more likely to consume fruits and vegetables at least 5 times daily.” Note that this number reflects having any single household member participating in the gardens and the effect on healthy food consumption. The specific number doubles as evidence in the power of community, even a small community (such as a household).
Source 3: Teig, E., et al., Collective efficacy in Denver, Colorado: Strengthening neighborhoods and health through community gardens. Health & Place (2009). https://nccommunitygardens.ces.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/researchTeigetal_neighborhoods-health-Gardens.pdf?fwd=no
This article discusses the benefits of community gardens in terms of community health, solidarity and organization, and overall well-being of participants. The article formulates conclusions through participant interviews. Throughout the interviews, the gardeners discussed growing sense of connectedness, sharing, volunteering and organizing. Many reported their experiences in the garden together formed “informal agreements” to help one another, beyond the garden. The article discusses these connections lead to lower rates of crime and violence- which lead to a stronger and safer community. A community united means a community empowered, and this article is evidence of community gardens improving neighborhood relations.
Ways to Get Started:
How can we meet the hunger needs of our communities, while simultaneously empowering, teaching, and uplifting them to their best version of themselves? There are several community gardens located throughout Portland. Portland Parks and Recreation has a Community Gardens program, and has a portion of their website dedicated to starting a plot or locating an existing one, as well as tons of resources for those looking to get involved in community gardens. Consider trying out alternative organizations, like Growing Gardens, who organize volunteers to build garden plots in the backyards of low-income families throughout Portland, as well as host free workshops and classes on gardening and healthy eating. A highly advisable first step is getting to know your neighbors and communities to better understand their needs and disadvantages in order to begin building a strong community that is healthy, sustainable and resilient.