Monday, April 8, 2013

A Garden Challenge to End Hunger. Are You Ready?

Last night, after spending more than $160 at the grocery store, I quickly cleaned out the vegetable crisper, throwing away mushy asparagus, a hot house cucumber that looked like a science experiment, and three leeks that I intended to use in a recipe...that just never happened.

And then, this morning at 4 a.m. during my bout of insomnia, I watched A Place at the Table.

I'm ashamed.

A Place at the Table documents hunger in America. Hunger. Not the effort to eliminate GMOs or the fight against Monsanto, which tends to be at the forefront of food news. 


The lack of real food for our kids' classmates. The inability of a working parent to feed his or her family. Mothers who tuck their children into bed, comforting them because their tummies are empty.

Have you experienced hunger? I haven't. My kids haven't. Right now, our refrigerator and pantry are overflowing with food. Real food. Fresh eggs from our chickens. A bowl of apples, pears, and bananas on the counter. And yes—some bad snacks in the pantry. All from my 30-minute shopping trip at Publix, which is less than five minutes away from our house.

But what if we lived in a food desert, where the nearest grocery store was 45 minutes away? What if I had to take two difference buses to get to that store after working all day? What if, after arriving at the store, my food budget was $3 dollars...a day?

It makes the McDonald's Dollar Menu seem awfully appealing, doesn't it?

Today, more than 200 food bloggers are dedicating their posts to fight hunger. While I consider myself a garden blogger rather than a food writer, the reality is that I write about growing food. (And flowers, but let's stick to the edibles today.)

The truth is, I knew hunger still existed. But don't we tend to think of images of malnourished children from third-world countries when we think of hunger? I don't think of hunger relating to my neighbors, community, or kids' friends.

I'm naïve. Or at least, I was. A Place at the Table opened my eyes.

Thirty percent of Americans have no idea when to expect their next meal.


One in three point three people.

And of those 48.8 million food insecure Americans, 16.2 million of them are children.

Kids, trying to focus in school while their tummies growl.

Kids, whose brains should be growing and thriving—but are not receiving the nutrition necessary for healthy development.

Kids, who are developing Type 2 diabetes at an alarming rate. According to U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, one in three children born in 2000 will develop diabetes due to poor nutrition.

The reality is that many of these families live in food deserts, where access to healthy food isn't an option. Grocery chains look to profits when evaluating their sites, and in our own community in Spartanburg, South Carolina, many chains abandoned the community. Without access to transportation, families rely on the closet source of food available—often convenience stores, where the inventory of chips and candy bars is high, and the nutritional value is nil.

Our community, though, is working on our food deserts. Our thriving Hub City Farmers' Market is located in an underserved area and accepts SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps) vouchers. Plans are underway for a Healthy Food Hub in a current food desert, housing the market, a café that will sell produce, and an urban farm, which will also employ community members. It's a start. There's a dedicated team in place, many grants written, and many community members involved who are determined to make it happen.

But what about the communities that aren't willing or able to step up? Will we allow Big Ag to continue to receive more than a quarter of a trillion dollars for food subsidies on corn and soybeans, which allows junk food to be affordable, while less than one percent of subsidies are delegated to farmers raising fruit, vegetables, and processed grains? Since 1980, when the American obesity epidemic began, the cost of fruit and vegetables increased by 40%, while the cost of processed food decreased by 40%, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

Isn't something wrong with this picture?

Something is also wrong when we try to help our youngest citizens with free school meals. The federal government reimburses schools $2.68 per meal. Now, out of the $2.68 budget, subtract costs for labor...administration...gas for deliveries...

What's left? Ninety cents. 90 cents to feed a child.

It's depressing. How can we claim to be a world leader, when America is ranked last among the IMF Advanced Economy countries for its inability to feed its people?

There's no easy solution. Families trying to earn a living lose federal assistance if their income exceeds $24,000—for a family of three.

Three people, trying to live on $24,000.

We know we can't snap our fingers and solve hunger. A blog post isn't going to make everyone have access to healthy food tomorrow.

But what can we do?

First, all of us can become more informed. Watch A Place at the Table. Visit No Kid Hungry. Read the information. It's heart-wrenching.

Then, make your voice heard here.

Finally, use your gardening power. What if, instead of buying that delicious-smelling witch hazel bush, we purchase a container, seeds, and soil, and taught a child how to grow a salad garden? What if we leverage the power of our community garden clubs and spend a meeting planting an edible garden at a local school stuck in a food desert, teaching the kids the power of growing food? What if we adopt an urban community center, helping them learn how to grow a community garden filled with healthy food?

Think what we could accomplish!

OK, I know I'm a little Pollyanna-ish.

Still, there's a quote that's been making the rounds on gardening sites and Facebook pages recently. “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

It's true.

When a pack of lettuce seeds cost $2 for several hundred seeds, and a single head of lettuce costs $'s a no-brainer.

Many food-insecure people may not have a yard for a garden. Still, a container placed on a stoop or balcony can provide an ongoing source of nutrition. Plus, many of the food deserts are found in rural areas, where there might be room for a backyard garden. That's where we gardeners can help. By providing our time, experience, and perhaps the tools to get started, we can make a difference in providing healthy food. 

One of the challenges for the Food Bloggers Against Hunger was to provide a nutritious recipe based on the food stamp allowance of $3-4 per day. While not exactly a recipe, a cut-and-come again salad bowl can provide an ongoing source of food. Some of the plants are perennials...

Swiss Chard
...while others are quick to grow from seed.



The ingredients I used were all grown from seed and include:

Red Russian Kale (3)
Rainbow Swiss Chard (3)
Speckled Lettuce (6)
Tom Thumb Peas (7)

Deeper containers can hold carrots, while 5 gallon buckets can support tomatoes and peppers. All require minimal space, and all provide good nutrition.

So what do you think? Are you up for the challenge? Can you commit to provide an edible container to a family in need, or to help a school supply nutrition to its children? If you have other ideas, please share them in the comments.

We gardeners are powerful. Let's teach people how to grow food—and let's help find a solution to hunger.

Thanks, friends.




  1. Fantastic post. I couldn't agree more. If we all had the knowledge and ability to grow food for ourselves, we would all be more food secure. We grow lettuces and chard here and enjoy them all season long. I'll be thinking of your post each time we cut fresh greens for dinner!

  2. Rock on Sistah! Keep planting, blogging and sharing hope. My mind is still reeling from being at a Wendell Berry (Center) conference over the weekend. People such as Bill McKibben, Vandana Shiva, Wes Jackson, Norman Wirzba, Wendell and John Berry... and more... the central message was that the ONLY way we are going to survive all the crises of this world (including hunger) is to all work together... now... all. Which includes such acts of all of us..each and every one.. merely planting an extra container or acre, and, as you suggest, teaching one more person how to grow food. Lets go!

  3. A powerful post! Thanks for participating in Food Bloggers Against Hunger.

  4. I am impressed,you are really on the right track. It's happening here in Australia too. Schools are growing their own veggies and even retirement homes. Jamie Oliver got it started in the UK too. We can all do a little more. Well done. :)

  5. Julie, I have never read your blog before and I have just became a committed fan after reading this article. American hunger is a very real problem many people don't even realize that their neighbors or children's classmates are part of this epidemic. In our area of Michigan the Greater Lansing Garden Project and many other wonderful agencies are geat in helping start Community Gardens in the Food Desert areas. Double Up Food Bucks is another program that allows families on SNAP and Bridge Card holders to use their cards at the local farmer's markets and DUFB will match the money spent up to a certain amount in tokens to be used in the market for Michigan grown and made product. Example if they spend $40 on their Bridge Card they would get $20 in farmer tokens equaling $60 dollars in food! Helping both the families and the farmers. We are the generation that let growing our own food slip through our fingers and it is up to us to re-educate ourselves and our children. Sorry about the long response but I truly believe this is a 'hidden 'situation that needs to be brought to the for front. Thank you for stepping up and doing this. Joanne K. Lansing Michigan

  6. This is a great post...teaching people how to grow things to eat...but I am a little confused here. Where I live in N. Mi. we have a local soup kitchen( which I have worked at)They a have a meal every day except on Sunday and then a local church picks up Sunday...Lots of food is donated from local grocery stores and business. The kitchen has it own store where if a family needs all the need to do is call and they can go and pick up all kinds of good nutritious food.We also have a church that has a food pantry where when people donate $$ and for every 7$ the gov. gives them $14 worth of food..We have Salvation Army here, St Vincents De Paul..We have monthly commodities at the local Fairgrounds.. No questions asked..If you say you need food, you can come and get get FREE breakfast at the public schools...Plus many many people on bridge cards..I am a retired person and live on a fixed income, I could get many of these commodities but feel that there are more people out there that need it more then I do..and I do grow my own vegies, and use to raise beef besides.I guess what I am asking is , You do not have programs such as these in your area?

  7. I do not have children so do not know what goes on in the schools these days. When I was in Elementary school, during the 60's and 70's, we were taught about growing veggies. We used our old milk cartons as a container, filled with soil and planted seeds. It was fun to watch those seeds grow into plants then they went home with us to plant into the ground. That was a lesson that has always stayed with me as I learned all about veggies. I hope they still have this program within the schools but with so many cuts these days, who knows what they are cutting out of the budget. Our community has "soup kitchens" for a daily meal and also a wonderful asset called the Golden Harvest Food Bank. Food is stocked as if a grocery store and one can get free staples during times of need.... A lot of times one does not know their neighbors are hungry as it seems to be a hush hush society we live in these days. Neighbors are private and keep to themselves verses reaching out for help. So sad to think of a child going hungry....

  8. This is a great blog. I'm retired and suppliment my tiny (less than $200/month) pension with my art. Each year I grow a little more of my own food. I think we'd all be better off growing at least some of our own food. Kids are going hungry but I also know a number of older people going hungry. This problem is bigger than ower governments want to admit, it's bigger than most people know. Thank you for writing this blog to bring this issue to more people's attention.

  9. Hi Julie, I think this is one the most inspirational posts I have read in a long time. It would be so easy to plant a lettuce bowl for a family in need. It is a fabulous idea :)

    I also struggle with food waste but it is because I have a couple of picky eaters. I cringe at what they refuse to eat when I know there are so many hungry kids in the world who would appreciate it. But I bring the kids out in the garden and the seem to enjoy what we plant.

  10. I've share this post on my blog:
    I think it is an important message to get out and about.

  11. Today is my first visit to your blog. I am retiring from teaching in 8 weeks and one of the first things I want to get going on is a food garden. I have a lovely flower garden, but during the school year it is neglected. In retirement, I hope we can eat fresh from the garden.

    I teach at an underprivileged school where every student gets free breakfast and lunch (for some those are their only meals), but I am shocked at how much food they throw away. Kids leave fruit, salads, and sandwiches sitting on the tables when they get up or they just throw them in the trash. We try to have a "not going to eat it table" so they will leave it in the cafeteria and someone who is hungry can get more food.

    I will be back to read more.

  12. Hi there! I'm visiting through Stacy's blog and I am glad I came by. Your post is both inspiring and informative on the actions we can take to help others. Thank you so much for pushing the movement forward...I am a strong believer in getting back to basics and I try to do it right on my small suburban lot. My sister lives in central Illinois and has started a school garden at the local elementary has been so moving to see the high school students help the elementary students grow and harvest their food. The thing is some of these kids have never had their hands in the dirt. It is important like you stated to teach people how to grow their food! Thanks for sharing...I am a new follower here!

  13. We've been actively promoting some of these ideas in our community and especially in local churches. The response has been really great. We wrote a paper we presented to area pastors last year that got a great response. We're already seeing more churches plant gardens, encouraging members to plant gardens, swap produce, etc.

    Here's the PDF of our little presentation if you're interested:


  14. This is really inspiration post!

  15. Have you read the book Wildly Affordable Organic? It's really inspiring, too.