Gardens of Restorative Justice
The Maryland Food Bank has received 3 million pounds of fresh, locally grown produce from a single source in the last year. Gleaning programs are a popular way to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to food insecure individuals and families and it would appear the large volume of produce from one source is the highlight of this piece of good news. However, this 3 million pounds barely scratches the surface; this produce was grown by individuals who are serving time in Maryland’s ECI Correctional Facility.
In the last decade gardens in prisons and jails have been gaining momentum. Some facilities began programs as a means to reduce the costs of food service and to create learning opportunities for inmates. The gardens have met the goals of reducing food costs while putting healthy and fresh foods on the plates of those housed in the facilities, yet a much more meaningful development from these programs is the direct impact the gardens have on the lives of the incarcerated and their communities.
The Insight Garden Program (IGP) was launched in the fall of 2002 as a volunteer organization with the vision that “gardens and connection to nature could help heal lives” in California’s East Bay. Twelve years later, the program is now in full operation in two state correctional facilities. A gardener, Julius, shared in his testimonial that the "program also made me a better person. Now that I’m out, I’m more active in the community and in work. When the garden is planted, and the work is done, and the vegetables grow it brings a lot of people together. That’s the way community grows. Also, I’m eating real food now, whereas before I wouldn’t eat it. I was more of a junk food junkie. There were certain vegetables as a kid I never liked to eat — string beans, cabbage, and broccoli. Knowing that it is actually good for the body, I try to eat healthier and set a good example for others in my community.”
ICG’s gardeners have a less than 10% rate of recidivism, compared to a 61% rate of recidivism amongst all California inmates. ICG has partnered with Planting Justice, a non-profit food justice organization in Oakland, CA, to provide job opportunities for ICG graduates reentering their communities.
The success of ICG has exceeded the goals of its vision, and it is not surprising that similar programs are yielding the same healing results that ICG has. Inmate gardens are in operation throughout the country. The Missouri Department of Correction’s Restorative Justice Garden Project provided 280 tons of produce to food pantries, shelters, schools and nursing homes in 2012 and 2013. Projects are also in Texas, Connecticut, Kentucky, Alaska, New York and San Diego.
The U.S. prison population is currently at 1.5 million people, some of whom are suffering from diet related illness,at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $38.8 billion annually. Feeding America estimates that 49 million Americans are food insecure. The potential these programs offer is immense, and in many ways, immeasurable.
Rethinking the Food Desert
In the mid 1990’s a new term was born to describe populated urban areas with little or no retail food distribution: “food deserts”. In the next two decades the term grew in scope to include rural, urban, and low-income pockets within larger communities that all share three common traits: a high-proportion of low-income residents, higher incidences of diet related illness, and little or no access to healthy, affordable foods (or food at all).
In 2012 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defined food deserts as any census tract with a poverty rate of at least 20%, or median family income that does not exceed 80% of the statewide median family income, in which the nearest healthy food retailer is 1 to 10 miles away. A tract with a population of 2,500 or more people is considered urban, all others are rural. By this definition there were 6,529 food deserts with 13.6 million inhabitants in the continental U.S. in 2012.
Since that time a movement to change how food deserts are assessed and addressed has unfolded. The traditional measure of a food desert only relied on two factors: poverty level and distance to a healthy food retailer. Other factors not considered in the USDA’s traditional determination of a food desert are the ways in which people move about neighboring communities as they travel for work and school, access to community gardens, and access to resources for cooking fresh produce.
Why is this important? A lack of access to healthy foods is a problem that does not have a “one size fits all” solution. For example; bringing the healthy food retailer into the food desert may not be a sustainable solution. Grocery stores are first and foremost businesses that need to turn a profit to survive. The absence of the store in the community may be because the community cannot support the business, either because the community members do not have the funds to spend on food or because they may be shopping in other communities. So what options are available to such a community?
In 2012 Food for People launched the Mobile Produce Pantry. This program provides access to locally grown produce in Humboldt County communities in which low-income residents have limited or no access to a healthy food retailer and an array of fresh fruits and vegetables necessary for good health. Similar projects have sprung up all over the Untied States, some are accepting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps, CalFresh in California), or offer the produce at reduced prices. In the last fiscal year the Mobile Produce Pantry provided over 38 tons of fresh produce to 3,600 households in remote areas of Humboldt County, thanks to a partnership with the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services.
Some new ideas are in the testing phases. This pilot project in Rhode Island provides free transportation on a regular basis from neighborhoods directly to the retailers and will also offer nutrition education and information about SNAP during the bus ride. And this Ohio State University undergraduate in city planning has proposed that city buses could have heavy duty coolers mounted on to them to encourage riders, who are likely using the bus for grocery shopping already, to increase their purchases of fresh foods as they shop. Equitable access to healthy foods is a multifaceted problem that will not be solved with one-size-fits-all solution. The USDA recently replaced its Food Desert Locator with the Food Access Research Atlas and the Food Environment Atlas. Both of these tools consider the layer of factors that may be limiting food access.
In this same vein, advocates for low-income individuals and families are urging the Federal government to revamp the traditional Federal Poverty Line (FPL) that measures poverty and sets the standard for “safety net” programs. The FPL is grossly inadequate and outdated. It has not been adjusted to reflect the drastic shifts in the costs of healthcare, transportation, childcare and housing in the average American budget since its creation in the 1960’s. Because of this, the FPL excludes millions of Americans who struggle to make ends meet with income that is above the FPL, yet still may be food insecure and have limited access to healthy foods. The FPL does not consider the positive impact of programs like SNAP and the Earned Income Tax Credit that lift people out of poverty when counted as part of their income. The U.S. Census Bureau has been researching a new way to measure poverty through the Supplemental Poverty Measure that may eventually be used to provide a more accurate picture of who is poor and can better inform the policies needed to address poverty.
Cooking Healthy in Indian Country
A local Hupa woman has taken the hands-on approach to addressing diet related illness in her community; cooking videos. Cooking Healthy in Indian Country is a series of YouTube videos that Meagan Baldy created when free produce from the Hoopa Community Garden was not going to use; she discovered that many people did not know how to prepare the produce.
What began as a Facebook post on kale and eggs has transformed into an ongoing series of cooking videos that emphasize addressing diabetes and obesity through the incorporation of healthy foods into the diet. Meagan uses local produce and foods that used to be a staple of the traditional diet to encourage good health in her community.
Bittersweet News in the Wake of the Farm Bill
The United States Congress elected to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) by $8.6 billion in the 2013 Farm Bill by requiring that a $20 minimum of energy assistance be received by a SNAP recipient in order for them to receive the maximum utility allowance that, when applied, would increase the amount of SNAP benefits they received (a practice known as Heat and Eat). State legislatures and governors in 12 of the 16 affected states have been busy protecting the families and individuals who are at risk of increased food insecurity from those cuts through legislative or gubernatorial action that increased state funding for LIHEAP programs to meet the $20 minimum. Sadly, the residents of Michigan, New Jersey, Wisconsin and New Hampshire will see their benefits cut by an estimated average of $76 per month.
Another piece of Farm Bill fallout impacts the retailers who accept SNAP. The July edition of Hunger Action E-News featured the 2013 Farm Bill's increased depth of stock mandates that will require SNAP retailers to provide more fresh fruits and vegetables. In addition to this change, SNAP retailers will also have to pay for the machines that are used to process SNAP sales via the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards that customers use to purchase food with. This increased cost may end up compromising food access as some retailers may not be able to endure this cost or may raise prices to compensate. This change slipped into the Farm Bill without the same degree of transparency as other changes. Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law and Poverty stated, "Congress didn't even hold a hearing to ask how this impacts stores and low-income people. It's abhorrent, disgraceful, and embarrassing."
1,000 Organizations in Support of Childhood Nutrition Programs
On October 14, 2014 President Obama received a letter urging him to continue his commitment to ending childhood hunger and reducing obesity. The letter signed by more than 1,000 organizations, including Food for People, asked the President to "support increased access to nutritious meals and snacks and to protect the quality of those meals and snacks in pre-school, school-based and out-of-school time programs in the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization" and in the FY2016 Budget.
The Humboldt Edge Turns 1!
A local publication just reached its first anniversary;The Humboldt Edge. The publication was first printed on October of 2013 and is now available online as well as in print. The Humboldt Edge provides a space where our community may better understand "diverse perspectives and lives that are systematically pushed to the “Edge” are brought to the center as a means of stimulating survival, dignity, dialogue, understanding, justice and action."
22nd Annual Holiday Spirit Food and Fund Drive
The holiday season is fast approaching, and Food for People is gearing up for its 22nd annual Holiday Spirit Food & Fund Drive. We cordially invite you to participate in our 2014 Hunger Fighter Challenge. The Hunger Fighter Challenge is a friendly competition to see which Hunger Fighter “team” can collect the most money and food for the food bank from the beginning of November through the end of December. Last year, the Hunger Fighter Challenge collected a total of 16,026 pounds of food and/or dollars, an impressive amount underlining the importance of community in the fight against hunger.
We continue to operate at maximum capacity, serving the largest number of community members that our resources can handle. Requests for help have not slowed down since reaching our peak during the recession. Limited-income and under-employed households struggle to keep up with the cost of living, facing challenging decisions between food and life’s other essentials. We are working hard to keep up, but it has put a significant strain on our limited resources – which is why we are so grateful for your help! We are committed to providing assistance to households in need, and we rely on community support to help us meet that need. This is where your group can help! The donations you gather during the Hunger Fighter Challenge will make it possible for us to provide assistance through the holiday and winter months.
Dozens of businesses, schools, groups and civic organizations have participated in the Hunger Fighter Challenge over the years. The most successful teams have one or more people spearheading the effort for their teams—someone who can be both leader and organizer. If you would like to participate, Food for People can provide your team with a food barrel, bags, and a fund collection container. We can also provide support materials like a list of most-needed foods, flyers, local hunger information and materials to help motivate your team to donate.
Food for People's Local Food Resources Coordinator, Laura Hughes, will be your contact person for any needs you may have throughout the competition. If you need more materials, information about Food for People, would like to request a Hunger 101 presentation to inspire your group, or anything at all, please don’t hesitate to contact us- we are here to support you. (Hunger 101 is a short activity that takes participants through a day in the life of a local family struggling to attain the food it needs to make sure no one in the family goes to bed hungry.) We look forward to working with you this year!
Laura Hughes can be reached at (707)445-3166 ext. 312 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Food for People's Monthly Cooking Class
Each month, Food for People organizes a free cooking class for low-income households in Humboldt County. Taught by volunteer chef and College of the Redwoods instructor, Anne Harris, this class teaches basic culinary skills, food and kitchen safety, and how to make nutritious and delicious dishes using commodity foods and fresh produce.
For more information, please contact Cassandra Culps at Food for People (contact information below).
For more information on Food for People, to refer someone for assistance with CalFresh, to schedule a CalFresh training or application clinic, Hunger 101 presentation, or nutrition education activity for your organization, please contact:
Community Education & Outreach Coordinator
(707) 445-3166 ext. 308 / email@example.com
CalFresh Application Assistor
Nutrition Education Coordinator
ext. 305 / firstname.lastname@example.org
*Images in this issue are provided by: Food for People, Chris Wisner, the USDA, Stuart Miles, Paul, Danilo Rizzuti, Ambro, healingdream, Master isolated images, Salvatore Vuono, stuffflypeoplelike.com, www.freegraphics.org, Michelle Meiklejohn, and chawalitpix of FreeDigitalPhotos.net., Participant Media