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Food Access

It is wonderful to speak to the elders of a community. A husband and wife team, Ms. Audrey and Mr. Walter (that is what I call them–this wonderful couple is older than me, so I show them respect by referring to them as Ms. and Mr.), and I enjoy a wonderful conversation on gardening and what got them started. 

Anna:

“Mr. Walter and Ms. Audrey, you all have such a beautiful garden. I always learn a great deal when I come over. How did you get started growing food and what keeps you going?”

Mr. Walter:

“My family is from Georgia. I had 13 brothers and sisters, so growing additional food was quite necessary. My father always had a garden and my mother would preserve food from that garden. I look forward to having a garden every year. You need food to survive.”

During the earliest days of the outbreak of COVID-19, many families, particularly families of color, started incorporating gardening into their quarantine routine.  Many families desired to have fresher food more available to their households.  Over the past few months, even more backyard gardens have been started and interest in healthy cooking continues to increase.  

In this first part of a two-part article, I would like to introduce to you to some neighborhood growers. They share their reasons for gardening, what they have gained from it, and their inspiration to continue.

Ms. Audrey and Mr. Walter:

Both transplants from the south, Mr. Walter is from Georgia and Ms. Audrey is from North Carolina.  When asked how and when they were first introduced to gardening, Mr. Walter stated: “That is what we did in the south, grew our own food.  Many of us had parents or grandparents that had small garden plots.  Everyone would harvest and share what they grew.  Other families would preserve either by canning, drying, or freezing.  It was just what we did.”  Ms. Audrey remembered how she would help harvest string beans and prepare them for eating. 

The beginning of the 2020 growing season has come with new twists and sudden changes due to COVID-19.  But it has also brought new opportunities for communities to come together around building neighborhoods and creating greater access to healthier food.

Open Pantry Community Services is a social services agency that works in close partnership with the City of Springfield Health Department.  They provide drug recovery services, classes for teen mothers, Emergency Food Pantry, Loaves and Fishes feeding program and supportive housing throughout the state.  It has always been their desire to create a garden to provide comfort, peace and healthier food to the families that live in the surrounding area.

After several weeks of physical distancing and sheltering in place, I started a research project for NOFA/Mass’s partners, Home City Housing.  We wanted to find out which families may be struggling with food insecurity due to not being able to get to the store, or not having enough money to shop. 

Staff from both Home City Housing and Robinson Gardens Apartments (a part of the Springfield Housing Authority) started combing through their family listings to find out who was in need of food, while we at NOFA/Mass began searching to find farmers who accepted SNAP payments and could deliver fresh food to Springfield, MA.

 

As the national industrial food supply chain faces incredible threats during this pandemic and we continue to support local, organic and sustainable agriculture, we must also use our voices to act in solidarity with food system workers nationwide who are truly frontline heroes. 

This month we are signal-boosting action alerts from partner organizations Food Chain Workers Alliance, United Farm Workers, and a critical call for support from the Mashpee Wampanoag

 

 

Early spring gives rise to planning for gardens: community gardens, backyard gardens, and school gardens are prepping their sites for planting.  In this time of the coronavirus, food insecurity issues have increased in communities across the country.  Community gardens are becoming not just a novelty, but a key source of produce and nutrition.  For communities of color that already have health disparities and few areas to access healthy food, the garden may now be the best place to provide for their households.

NOFA/Mass has an ongoing program with the youth and families of Home City Housing in Springfield, MA to assist with the self determination to grow healthy, nutritious food. Through programming that has been funded by grants and individual donors, Home City Housing and NOFA/Mass have been able to work with 15 youths to develop organic growing practices at their Tapley Street Apartment Complex.  As partners, NOFA/Mass and Home City Housing have worked together to create an interactive learning program for these youth leaders that covers carbon sequestration, no-till gardening, soil fertility and food nutrition/cooking information. 

We’re all still adjusting to this new and rapidly evolving “normal,” and just like everything else, the world of food policy has been tossed up in the air and is yet to settle. Of course, we still have our priorities, the long-standing campaigns that so many of you have been such a critical part of. We also realize that many of us (including yours truly, the Policy Director) have very limited bandwidth to consider anything other than what is happening with COVID-19 and what it means for our families and communities. If you’re even reading this during the month of April 2020, thank you! 

 

The legislative priorities we’ve been working on since January 2019 are essentially in a holding pattern right now. As of March 31, the state legislature is still technically operating, though legislators have zero capacity to address anything not directly COVID19-related. It’s highly unlikely that any of our priority bills will get any attention before late May or June (formal session ends July 31st, 2020). We are not asking our networks to contact legislators on anything other than COVID-19 issues in coming weeks. If/when anything changes on that front, we’ll let you know via a dedicated action alert, social media, etc. 

The world has dramatically shifted in the past month. A tiny virus has changed everything. COVID-19 went from being the butt of social media jokes about the CDC overreacting, to causing multiple states to call for “shelter in place” or, as in our state, “stay at home” orders. This time of quarantine has left all of us reeling and feeling isolated in what feels like just moments. And the food system has taken a particularly hard hit. 

Like the way an avalanche begins with a tiny rumble, then overtakes the landscape to leave only what can hunker down and hang on for dear life, this virus has leveled our country's way of selling and buying food down to barren grocery store shelves and a supply chain stretched to its limit.

 

During the health pandemic that we are all currently facing, the need to procure healthy, nutritious food has become more apparent than ever.  An even more immediate need that communities and families have uncovered is the ability to determine and control the quality of food that our families consume.  For many of us in the Mason Square area of Springfield, this can be difficult due to the shortages of food in stores nearby.

With the challenge faced by the unavailability of fresh food and the difficulties of traveling, especially when the household does not have access to a car, more and more people are looking to bring the “store” to their homes.

I hope you are reading this in your cozy, physically distanced home where you are able to make the most of the unexpected quiet time and even possibly make progress on your seedlings and farm planning for this season. If there is a silver lining to this moment, may one of them be our ability to put extra focus on the plants this spring, undistracted by other busy-ness.

If you are in need of some inspiration or information for starting those seeds, check out our first impromptu webinar from our free “Resiliency Skills Online Gatherings” series entitled “Seed Starting Systems at Home”.

 

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