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Creating Healthy People and Healthy Environments: The Connection between Hunger and Habitat
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by Jody Tick | 2009

By Jody Tick— The premise of community food security is based on “a condition in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice” (Mike Hamm and Anne Bellows). It’s this concept of sustainability—economic, social and environmental—that drives the Capital Area Food Bank’s Harvest for Health program. In this day and age of growing awareness of where food comes from and how it’s produced, Harvest for Health addresses social and environmental justice issues of our food and food system. Our programs operate on the tenet that in order to have a truly sustainable food system, it has to be affordable and accessible to all.

 

Creating Healthy People and Healthy Environments:  The Connection between Hunger and Habitat

 

 

By Jody Tick— The premise of community food security is based on “a condition in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice” (Mike Hamm and Anne Bellows). It’s this concept of sustainability—economic, social and environmental—that drives the Capital Area Food Bank’s Harvest for Health program. In this day and age of growing awareness of where food comes from and how it’s produced, Harvest for Health addresses social and environmental justice issues of our food and food system. Our programs operate on the tenet that in order to have a truly sustainable food system, it has to be affordable and accessible to all.

For many, the thought of a food bank brings to mind donations of non- perishable foods for food drives to help those in need. However, the public’s perceptions about who is hungry and why there is hunger may not reflect reality. A 2006 survey of Capital Area Food Bank agencies found that of metro area residents seeking emergency food assistance, one in four own their own home, and 50% report having to choose between buying food and paying for other living expenses. Though hunger still exists, the issue of low-income malnutrition pervades the communities we serve. The issue of malnutrition as it relates to poverty is due to lack of access to and availability of affordable healthy foods, especially fresh produce. This situation has created food insecure communities in many U.S. cities, but is especially glaring in Washington, D.C. DC Hunger Solutions’ 2006 Healthy Food, Healthy Communities report assessed Washington, DC grocery stores and found that there are only three major chain grocery stores for over 140,000 residents in Wards 7 and 8 compared with one major grocery store for every 11,881 residents in Wards 2 and 3.

We have become accustomed to a food supply that provides for an abundant and inexpensive source of food without understanding or paying for the “true” costs associated with producing food through an industrial agricultural system. These true costs are borne by the streams we pollute, the soil we degrade, and ultimately have ramifications for human health. Unfortunately, the industrial food system is promoted by federal policies that encourage and reward commodity production which ultimately translates into highly processed foods that are less than nutritionally optimal food. I would argue that this food system has disproportionately affected low income consumers and those in communities without access to healthy foods because these foods are readily available, inexpensive, and require little or no preparation.

As the demand for sustainably produced food continues to grow, society is slowly recognizing and understanding the link between how we treat the environment and our health. However, we need to go one step further and treat access to healthy food as a social justice issue. Until we can all take part in a food system that values the environment, health, and equity it will never be truly sustainable. Harvest for Health strives to meet our mission by facilitating access to affordable, high quality produce to low-income communities, educating about the link between diet, health and the environment and fostering the skills necessary for self reliance.

One way we do this is through From the Ground Up (FGU) at Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. FGU at Clagett Farm is an innovative collaboration between the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Capital Area Food Bank to bring sustainably grown, fresh produce to Washington, D.C. metro area communities. Half of Clagett’s annual yield is sold through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project. The other half of Clagett’s produce is made accessible to low-income individuals through a variety of programs, including the donation of produce weekly to food bank member agencies and accepting Food Stamps for payment, among others.

FGU at Clagett Farm also has an educational component called the Farm Youth Initiative (FYI). Urban youth attend a nutrition class where they learn the importance of making healthy food choices. To learn how their actions can impact the environment, they gain valuable experience by growing and harvesting vegetables at Clagett Farm.

In addition, through FGU in the Community program, the Capital Area Food Bank is piloting a project in Anacostia to educate youth about nutrition and the social and environmental benefits of growing fresh produce through a fourteen-week hands-on urban gardening experience.

By reaching out to the low-income community and linking health, hunger, poverty, and environmental issues through education and access to affordable, nutritious, sustainably produced food, the Capital Area Food Bank is addressing hunger comprehensively. For more information about the Capital Area Food Bank and Harvest for Health, please visit www.CapitalAreaFoodBank.org.

 

 

 

Jody Tick is the Director of Harvest for Health at Capital Area Food Bank.

 

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