The Land of Plenty

St. Fiacre
The idea that I am about to present to you is certainly nothing new. Wonderful organizations such as Ample HarvestPlant a Row for the Hungry and countless food banks and pantries across the country have been confronting the issue of hunger in our communities head on for some time.

Food insecurity is a cornerstone of the human condition. A little research will lead you to discover a long history of charity in opposition. For example, the seventh century Irish Benedictine monk St. Fiacre who was a master herbalist eventually settled in France and practiced a reverse tithe by keeping 10% of his harvest while giving away 90% to those less fortunate.

Life is complicated, as we all know. There are no easy answers to any of the problems that plague our society but there are some very simple issues that could be addressed that could in turn have a ripple effect on a number of other dilemmas such as poverty, health and even violence.

According to the USDA 40% of the $161 billion dollars’ (you read that correctly, $161 BILLION) worth of food produced in this country is never harvested or it is simply lost in processing, thrown away in restaurants and homes or ends up rotting in America’s landfills because it does not fit the image desired by chain grocery stores. The Natural Resource Defense Council claims that 50% of our produce is simply never consumed. Simultaneously millions of Americans are not sure where their next meal is coming from. 
Consider fresh eggs for your food bank

In the past I have been very vocal about people, especially those living in poverty, growing their own food, taking control of their diet in one manner or another. Recently I read a blog called Poor As Folk in which the author made a very strong case that some people simply cannot grow their own food, especially those truly living in poverty. Members of our society well below the poverty line tend to find themselves in positions where they are renting and may not have access to land. They may be dealing with serious health issues. They may be elderly and it is simply not possible for them to do so physically anymore. There are any number of reasons that I may have overlooked and been insensitive to initially. Though I am a big advocate for teaching a man to fish there are simply some people who just need a fish and I , along with my family, are happy to help them. 

This in turn lead me to investigate my own small community of Sidney N.Y. I found that there are 1052 hamlets, villages, towns and cities in New York State. Sidney ranks 942nd in per capita income ($15,123). 1/5th of our population lives below the poverty line. 1/3rd of those in need are children and 1/5th of those are elderly. As you can see the need right here at home is great and this does not include the massive amount of people who live just above poverty in our community, in other words the working poor.

Your garden excess can go a long way
As I looked into it a bit more I found that an estimated 11 billion lbs. of produce is wasted in U.S. gardens each year. This, I realized, is where my family could have a small but significant impact. We have developed both a short term and a long term goal. 

In the short term we are going to take our 1/16th acre urban farm and attempt to make it run as efficiently as possible. The goal will be to provide our own family with as much fresh food as possible, create a small niche crop or two to sell at local farmers markets in order to reinvest in our main project which is to take all excess garden produce to our local food pantry. 

We recently took our first trip to the local pantry and it was a sobering moment. It was depressing to see so many good people in such desperate need within our own community. It only reinforced the need for a positive response from our family.        

In the meantime the long term goal is to find a small farm within our community that we could transition to and engage the issue of poverty on a much larger scale while continuing to feed our own family, market garden and preserve heritage livestock and crops.
There is plenty to go around

Though I wholeheartedly acknowledge that some people simply cannot grow their own food I do still believe that it is important to "teach a man to fish" and would like to eventually provide opportunities for lower income families via community gardens, maybe even at the food bank. Education is the key and it is the most important form of empowerment.

I do not say all of this to you in an effort to gather shallow accolades but rather to impress upon you the potential need within your own community. A few random cucumbers or tomatoes from every garden in the country could have a major impact on poverty and food insecurity. These issues alone effect the cognitive development of our youth, the violence within our communities, which of course includes addiction, and the health of our families and neighbors. Food is political whether you want to acknowledge it or not. You and I are the solution, no one else.

We will continue our work and provide you with regular updates. If you would like to contribute to our mission please feel free to go to the following link. Maybe more important than a monetary donation is simply providing this knowledge to other urban farmers, gardeners and homesteaders so that they will become motivated to plant seeds within their own community.

Tobias Whitaker blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead. Last, but certainly not least, you can also find his work at Tobias Alan Whitaker


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