Agriculture Forum: Local food for food insecure families | Business

By Christina Barkel

A lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life — that’s how the US Department of Agriculture defines “food in security,” and it’s a situation that one in eight people across our nation struggle with. In Michigan alone, the health care cost of food insecurity reaches $1.8 billion a year.

To reduce the incidence and impact of food insecurity, Gov. Whitmer two years ago created the Food Security Council to look for solutions, and Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities was among those invited to share ideas.

When the council released a report last month, many suggestions aligned with the critical and visionary work Groundwork and its partners are already engaging in to alleviate food insecurity in North Lower Michigan.

The council’s report found that while health problems and food insecurity are linked, the reason is multi-faceted: Families with limited financial resources delay medical care, experience chronic stress, and can only afford high-calorie, low-nutrition foods.

The report recommends making healthy, fresh food more available in several ways — including by increasing funds for fresh and culturally appropriate food in local programs. Along with our partners, Groundwork has pursued this very strategy, promoting solutions that alleviate food insecurity in our region, and working to improve the nutritional value and overall quality of food available to those who are food insecure.

For example, at the onset of the pandemic, Groundwork launched the Local Food Relief Fund, a crowdfunding effort that raised nearly $200,000 for our region’s emergency food providers to purchase locally produced, healthy food to distribute to those in need.

Now, two years later, Groundwork continues to play a critical role, along with the Northwest Food Coalition and Food Rescue, to support the Farm2Neighbor program, which connects food pantry and meal sites to farmers, and facilitates the purchase of healthy food at a fair price from local growers. The partnerships create reliable access to fresh local produce throughout the year for Northwest Food Coalition members and the people they serve.

These efforts also create an opportunity for individuals experiencing food insecurity to make positive choices for their own health at the food pantry. More broadly, local food at pantries and meal sites creates community environments that prioritize and support local, healthy options and build an expectation that nutritious food from local farms belongs here. This builds human dignity along with health equity.

Groundwork also recently launched Building Resilient Communities (BRC), which assists community-focused sites, like food pantries, schools, farms and others, in increasing the amount of nutritious, locally grown food available northwest throughout Michigan. BRC aims to increase community health while building production and distribution capacity, expanding markets for local food, and bolstering farm economic stability. Sites participating in the program have distributed more than 63,000 pounds of local food to emergency food providers and reached thousands of people with nutrition, cooking or gardening education.

The Food Security Council report summarizes what Groundwork and other partners work toward locally.

Through effective strategies that invest in local food systems and support fresh food availability, more people and families can achieve food security, health and well-being.

Christina Barkel is a food equity specialist at the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities.

She works to purchase food from local farmers for distribution in food pantries and meal sites. Contact her at christina@groundworkcenter.org.

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