Hungry for change: Ideas for tackling food insecurity

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by Eric Ginsburg

Everybody is talking about it.

The Triad has long struggled with food insecurity and hunger, suffering from relatively high unemployment rates, prolific food deserts and crippling poverty. With the Greensboro-High Point metro area recently jumping from No. 2 to the top spot for food-hardship rates across the country, attention, concern and alarm have risen considerably. And things aren’t much better in Winston-Salem, where food hardship is still embarrassingly prevalent.

It would be easy to feel powerless, like the problem is too big to have an impact upon. It’s clear that the root of the issue is about much more than a need for more food drives and pantries, but lies in an economic system that disadvantages a significant portion of the population. Food insecurity is inseparable from larger issues of poverty, access and power, making it challenging not to be overwhelmed and immobilized by the breadth of the problem.

But this area desperately needs solutions, and hands to put new ideas in place. That’s why Triad City Beat asked dozens of people what can be done, including existing local approaches that people may not be aware of and new concepts that could work here. Activists, chefs, farmers, community volunteers, politicians and everyday people offered their intellectual prowess and personal experiences.

A garden in Warnersville for the Mobile Oasis
A garden in Warnersville for the Mobile Oasis

Recurring themes emerged — many people suggested something akin to the Mobile Oasis, a movable farmers market that sprung up recently in Greensboro. Ads for it now decorate some city buses.

There were countless surprises and moments of heartbreak in the interviews. One woman who organizes for food justice said years ago she had worked a minimum-wage job, and with college debt and no car, she was too proud to seek help or unaware of options for support, instead living off a bag of white rice for months.

More organizing is happening locally around food than many realize; people mentioned obscure groups like the Greensboro Permaculture Guild and extended invitations to meetings including one at Piedmont Area Rapid Transit’s offices or an upcoming forum in east Greensboro organized by the city.

TCB doesn’t have the space to run all of the ideas people shared — rather than attempting to compile an exhaustive list, our goal is to keep the issue of food insecurity in front of people, share innovative approaches that are being implemented and highlight some ways that people could get involved in improving our cities. The best resources are the people and organizations that are already diligently tackling food hardship, food insecurity and hunger, and we recommend reaching out to them to join the struggle.

We also strongly encourage our readers to continue sharing ideas, resources and experiences in the comments section below.

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  • Beth Kizhnerman

    It is about economic development in our area. Creating jobs in the food system and outside the foodsystem that pay well so people can support themselves and their family. A well designed transit system would be extremely helpful as people wouldn’t have to spend money on cars and all the costs involved in owning a car besides the environmental costs. A huge expense would be removed from a family budget that could be spent on securing food and other essentials.
    Jobs and Transit!!!
    Thank you Eric for writing this article.

  • From the article: “It’s clear that the root of the issue is about much more than a need for more food drives and pantries, but lies in an economic system that disadvantages a significant portion of the population. Food insecurity is inseparable from larger issues of poverty, access and power, making it challenging not to be overwhelmed and immobilized by the breadth of the problem.”

    And yet the one item that is left out of the conversation is the only idea pitched that presents any real solutions– why? http://bessemeraquaponics.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html

    • KW

      Wow – pretty arrogant to think your idea was the “only idea pitched that presents any real solutions.” I would love to see a list of all the ideas generated though. Can this be made available?

  • Also from the article: “Door-to-door delivery: Brendan Younger recently pitched a concept at an Idea Slam event in Greensboro — build a business around delivering food door-to-door, even in low-income areas. He doesn’t want to implement it himself, but could envision someone making one delivery of staple items a week, estimating that one person could serve at least 100 households a week. Calculating the density of local food deserts, using a food-stamp calculator and looking at wholesale food prices, Younger figured it could be feasible and accessible.”

    I pitched Bessemer Aquaponics at that very same event– why no mention? http://bessemeraquaponics.blogspot.com/

    • Hey Billy,
      The exclusion wasn’t intentional — I didn’t go to the event, but met Younger after the fact and heard about his idea from a mutual friend.

      • Yes Eric, the same mutual friend who tells me he also told you about my idea. Could it be you’re ignoring the idea not because it is a bad idea but because of your personal feelings about me?

        Bad journalism, Eric.

        • Brendan Younger

          Hi Billy,

          Really, it was just that Joel and I happened to be at Gibb’s at the same time as Eric and so it was really easy for me to get Eric’s email address and send him the information I had. It’s clear from the length of the article that Eric talked to a ton of people and his intention wasn’t to find the absolute best ideas or present the one true path forward, just to keep people talking and thinking about this.

          I do like your idea quite a bit. Are you finding the resources you need to make it happen?

          • Brendan, I liked your ideas so much I added them to our vision: http://bessemeraquaponics.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html Not that I’m trying to steal or take credit for your ideas but you did say you only wanted to put it out there for someone else to use.Besides, as the producer of the food Bessemer Aquaponics could more cheaply supply the food than by buying through others.

            I realize that you and Joel were at Gibbs but you see the thing is, I pitched my ideas to Brian Clarey weeks ago and as always, he and Eric deliberately ignored me. Brian seems to be of the opinion that I’m only seeking publicity but the truth is there is nothing in this for me. You heard my presentation, like you and your idea I don’t want to run it, I don’t seek to profit from it, I could care less about attention except that ideas– even the best ideas in the world– die without attention.

            Had Brian and Eric looked at my idea and thought it bunk that would be one thing but I believe Eric has a personal grudge with me and is holding Greensboro’s poor hostage with his anger.

            As for resources, all I need now is a board of directors: http://bessemeraquaponics.blogspot.com/2015/05/next-step-board-of-directors.html who can share the vision.

          • As usual, my preferred response to you is “Whatever, Billy.” I am holding the poor hostage by not reading your blog? Get a grip. I’m vaguely aware that you’re doing something with aquaponics, and maybe it’s a great idea. But you do realize that there are a ton of people working on food insecurity that I didn’t interview, not just you, right? I’d say about a dozen people that I DID talk to didn’t even make it in for space/time reasons. As Brendan said, this list isn’t meant to be definitive, but to get the ball rolling. I’m glad you’re adding your idea in the comments.

          • Eric,

            Your first excuse:

            “The exclusion wasn’t intentional — I didn’t go to the event, but met Younger after the fact and heard about his idea from a mutual friend.”

            But that didn’t fly. Your second excuse:

            ” I’d say about a dozen people that I DID talk to didn’t even make it in for space/time reasons.”

            But you never talked to me. Brian Clarey never replied to my invitations to come to our meetings even with weeks notice. You and Brian made no effort to look into the ideas I’m presenting. I contacted Brian repeatedly and got zero response. And then Eric replies:

            “As usual, my preferred response to you is “Whatever, Billy.”

            As usual you have made a pretty good case for what I said about you in the first place:

            “Could it be you’re ignoring the idea not because it is a bad idea but because of your personal feelings about me?

            Bad journalism, Eric.”

            You’ve never taken the time to look at my ideas because of your anger towards me. Had you looked at them you would have given me straight answers as to Thank you for proving my point.

            When ideas are discounted not on the individual merit of the idea but because of who is presenting the idea, journalism fails us.

          • Brian Clarey

            Believe it or not, Billy, your name does not come up very much around here. Except when you link-spam our pages. Poor form, by the way.

          • How often my name comes up has nothing to do with the issue, Brian

  • Eric,
    Thanks so much for your work! You have helped to plant lots of seeds!
    Blessings!
    Frank Dew

  • Under using “Vacant Lots” for growing food in urban areas, please include the fact that the City of Winston-Salem just approved an “Urban Agriculture Ordinance” to do just that.

  • Thank you for the shout out to the seed swap at the Ardmore Gateway Garden! I organized that event this year, and another where we gave away and swapped plants with community members. We had a modest turn out but hope to continue sharing our resources with our neighbors.
    Fantastic, inspiring, motivating article.

  • Thessa

    The Servant Center isn’t closing the Servant Center is closing its pantry. However, One Step Further, Inc. Has decided to try to keep it open. OSF is attempting to $10K by June 30th to save the pantry!

  • Sheri Vettel MPH, RD, LDN

    Thanks for this great article Eric! Just wanted to put it out there that the organization I work for (Partnership for Community Care) has started a healthy food pantry for our Medicaid patients with chronic disease–this is similar to an idea posed by the Greater High Point Food Alliance. We too have seen how linked food insecurity is after hospital discharge and with managing a chronic health condition. Would be happy to share what we are doing with others!

    • Now there’s a project that seeks to treat causes as well as symptoms. Too much of our efforts are directed towards symptoms when what we need are cause based solutions. Thank you for your efforts at Partnership for Community Care.