by Bethany Beebe, Purdue Extension Allen Co Extension Master Gardener
Especially this time of year, when the list of outdoor tasks gets longer and the daylight hours do to, trips to the grocery store can be postponed. More than a lack of time can create food-obtaining difficulty for some. Scarcity of resources such as income or a good local market keeps the most nutritious of the fresh basics from underserved areas. Sharing your reserve of gardening knowledge and laboring to see that knowledge realized can help build a sense of community and put a better quality of life on the menu where it is needed most.
According to the USDA, food security is having enough to eat for a lifestyle that is healthy and active. Distribution is a major problem. According to the World Health Organization, if all the food produced in the world were equally distributed, each person could eat 2,750 calories per day; the recommended daily allowance is 2,100. Distribution issues can happen for a number of reasons (ibid). Natural causes like drought, too much moisture, or insects, can interrupt crop production. From the human-influenced side, economic and political factors exist; war can also cause food shortages.
The war against COVID, more recently, has proven challenging in the American war against food insecurity. Feeding America reports that the declining rates of food insecurity in this country were interrupted with the economic recession brought on by the pandemic. In fact, at the start of the pandemic, the U.S. food insecurity rate was at its lowest point since the 1990s, when the data was first collected. Money to purchase consumables became scarce when COVID stopped income for many. At its highest since records were kept beginning in 1948, the official April unemployment rate last year was 14.7%; 2019’s was 3.7%. Feeding America estimates that about 45 million Americans (1 of 7), 15 million (1 of 5) of them being children, endured insecurity in 2020; this year’s estimates drop slightly to 42 million Americans, 13 million of them children.
Most locally, here in Allen County, we are far from unaffected. According to 2018 data, 46,500 people experienced food insecurity. These pre-pandemic numbers represent 12.5% of the population with an average meal costing $2.92. The organization reports just shy of $23 million would have been needed to appropriately address the situation. To give some relative context to the issue, Marion County (Indianapolis) experienced 15.3% food insecurity, representing 144,260 people in an area where the average meal cost was $2.92 with a budgetary lack of over $69 million.
Purdue Extension offers that those of us with resources to share have the power to make a difference. Gardeners can share the literal fruits of their labor with food pantries and soup kitchens; fresh goods that are among the most-requested items. Those who are food insecure are more likely to experience obesity because calorie intake from unaffordable high-protein, complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables is replaced by unhealthy, nutrient-lacking food.
While the list of things needed to solve the issue of food insecurity is long, the EMG community can do its part. From working in community gardens to sharing resources and research to help people do it themselves, a positive impact can be made.*