The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project: A Gillings Innovative Laboratory


Community Food Security
January 25, 2010, 3:56 pm
Filed under: Food, Health, Media | Tags: , , , ,

Customers donating fresh foods at the Carrboro Farmers Market

Customers donating fresh foods at the Carrboro Farmers Market

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article that took a close look at how the recession has reshaped the job market.  For the most part, “reshaped” was used as a euphemism for jobs lost, with professions in construction, trade, transportation, manufacturing, leisure and hospitality all posting tremendous cutbacks. There were a few areas however, that posted an increase in jobs, even in this dire economy. And one of these areas had to do with food. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “community food and shelter” jobs are one of the top rapidly expanding job fields in the country.  Professions in this area provide crucial community food security at a time when many have lost their jobs and aren’t able to put food on the table. Community food jobs entail helping identify new sources of food and securing donations for the hungry. It’s hard to overlook the fact that the increase in these jobs portrays the alarming public need.  It’s going to take resourceful people and innovative solutions to make a difference.

According to the USDA’s annual report on food insecurity, 1 in 7 families in the United States experienced food insecurity in 2008. The situation demands more solutions – and an increase in people working to fight hunger is an important first step. Though more traditional programs like food can drives have a place in securing donations for the hungry, food security programs must challenge themselves to think creatively in order to help feed people in a healthy and sustainable way. Many are donating less now than before as they too are working on a tight budget.  Often times, the canned food that is donated is high in sodium and high-fructose corn syrup, and can contribute to diet-related diseases. Too many solutions, as Julie Guthman, Assoc. Professor at UC Santa Cruz wrote recently, reflect the limits of food charity when people in need get what others wouldn’t eat themselves – unhealthy and highly processed canned food. Or, as Gutham writes, “the dregs.”

In our community here in the Triangle, there are a number of programs that take creative approaches to securing healthy food for people in need. At the Carrboro Farmers Market for instance, 4,364 pounds of fresh food were donated by farmers and customers alike from late May through the end of 2009 through a program called The Farmer FoodShare.  This program cooperates with other local groups like the Inter-Faith Council for Social Services’ FoodFirst initiative and Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. According to Margaret Gifford, FoodShare founder and organizer, they hope to continue to grow this FoodShare program at the Carrboro Market and expand to other interested markets. She stresses that partnering with others working to create food safety nets is essential, “We value the cooperative nature of our local community and find that by focusing on getting the best fresh fruits and vegetables we can for people in food insecure households means that we can make a greater impact in people’s lives and on their overall health.”

Boxes of fresh donated produce

Boxes of fresh donated produce

In this immediate community, we also have non-profit organizations like TABLE, which runs a program where backpacks filled with food are delivered to children at their school to take home over the weekend.

The economic situation spurred a new project at UNC this year to assist its employees hit hard by the budget crisis – a cooperative garden. Fresh fruits and vegetables will be grown for the schools’ faculty, students and staff. The garden came out of a discussion in which UNC staff (custodians, cafeteria workers, maintenance workers, and others) expressed concerns about some people not being able to afford fresh, healthy food. The garden project is being led by volunteer, Claire Lorch, and she welcomes more people to get involved and join the organizing committee. The programming for the garden is being finalized and will likely offer a combination of individual garden plots as well as a cooperative growing area that will allow UNC employees to exchange work (planting, weeding, watering, etc) for foods grown.  The vision of the garden is that it will do more than just provide fresh produce – it hopes to serve as a place where faculty, students and staff can connect with each other.

These few examples described above are just some of the innovative ways people are working, in both paid and volunteer capacities, to address hunger issues in our community. If you’re interested in learning more about these programs or in volunteering, please follow the links. It’s sometimes easy for me to get caught up in the day to day activities of local food system research, but it’s important to remind myself that there are folks living nearby that don’t have enough money to buy food for dinner, no matter where that food is coming from.

Donated non-perishable items

Donated non-perishable items

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