Last Sunday, 60 Minutes featured a group of families near Orlando, Florida who are now living in their cars or in cheap motels. Entire families are crammed into one room, while their foreclosed homes sit empty. The school bus stops in front of the motels now to pick up the kids, who often sit in class with grumbling stomachs and go to bed hungry.
The UN definition of food security, emphasizes that everyone should have consistent and adequate access to nutritious, culturally appropriate food. In these tough economic times with rising food costs and more people sliding into poverty, community groups are working harder than ever to improve access to fresh foods. Many groups are focusing on food deserts, areas underserved by quality grocery stores, often populated with low-income citizens. A group of university students in San Francisco collaborated with a corner store owner to bring fresh fruit and vegetables to a food desert; the store became a pick up spot for members of a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) program. There is a whole network called Healthy Corner Stores devoted to the movement. Some community groups are setting up smaller, “pocket markets”, temporary fresh produce markets that can be offered in food deserts and other key locations, like seniors centres, neighbourhood houses, hospitals and churches. Our Westside Food Security Collaborative program was modeled after FoodRoots from Victoria, BC. In Richmond, Virginia, Mark Lilly of Farm to Family drives his mobile farmer’s market, a big ol’ white school bus, onto abandoned supermarket parking lots. Low-cost grocery stores like the ones operated by Quest Outreach Society in Vancouver allow people to buy staples at subsidized prices, to shop with dignity and make their own choices. The Potluck Café, a social enterprise on Vancouver’s downtown eastside, operates a successful catering and event planning business, employs local residents and provides the community with healthy, affordable meals.
The most successful programs are often multi-layered. For example, they link chefs directly with growers, or match farmers with a school lunch program or good food box, encourage grocers and caterers to donate their surplus quality food to neighbourhood social service agencies for their meal programs, or like the Potluck Café endeavour to employ and feed the people they serve.
Innovative programs like these help with the goal of food for all, but wouldn’t it be nice if some of the bail out money went to strengthening the social safety net too? Or better yet, kept people in their homes in the first place.