• Montagnard farm: The Greensboro-area Montagnard community recently received a donation of 9 acres of farmland near Wet N’ Wild that it plans to use for farming, Cassandra Hlong — whose father is one of the community’s organizers — said. Montagnards, like many other people, have farming in their roots, but the large local refugee community generally lacks the resources and space to maintain the practice.
  • Tool/supply access: Andrew Young, who works with the Bonner Center at Guilford College, said access to tools for communities like the Montagnards in Greensboro can be huge. “It’s amazing what happens when a refugee family suddenly has a basic tool like a heavy-duty farming hoe, a water barrel and some soil amendment to get started,” he said. “The hoe is all-purpose, the water barrel insures that the utility bill won’t go up, and soil amendment helps break up red clay and improve yields. The return on investment — better and more food at an affordable price with the added benefit of increased varieties of veggies — is ridiculously high.”
  • Higher ed: Colleges and universities can play a big role, Young said, adding that the Bonner Center is working with professor Charles Raczkowski at A&T’s Research and Demonstration Farm “to simultaneously study refugee farmers’ field practices while sharing with them best North Carolina practices they can use in urban gardening.” Jigna Dharod at UNCG’s nutrition department has also done extensive research with local refugees, he said.
  • Improved transit: Many people cited a lack of public transportation, particularly in Greensboro where they criticized sprawl, as a key contributor to food insecurity. Ideas for addressing it varied, but most came back to greater public investment in mass public transit and denser development.

    A home garden in Winston-Salem
    A home garden in Winston-Salem
  • Front-yard gardens: Ethnosh organizer Donovan McKnight and chef/TCB photographer Caleb Smallwood are big fans of the front-yard garden, eschewing lawns in favor of food. It can start in small containers and take over the whole yard, and neighbors could even grow different crops and share, McKnight said. He’s also a big fan of backyard chickens.
  • Landlord involvement: McKnight added that if landlords actively encourage gardens, residents will have more investment and pride in where they live. That has proved true in public housing in Winston-Salem, as a Feb. 25, 2015 article in TCB
  • Office competition: McKnight, who cited locals Marianne LeGreco and Charlie Headington as inspiration suggested that small businesses install raised beds or container gardens, possibly on the roofs, and have a competition among employees. The food could be eaten by staff, or donated.
  • Matching dollars: The Greensboro Farmers Curb Market makes it “an organizational priority” to secure matching dollars for SNAP/EBT users from local foundations, up to $15 each week, Lee Mortensen said. More foundations could get involved, and other organizations could replicate the model.
  • Buying clubs: Cooperative organizer Yahya Alazrak proposed a local buying club, even if just among a few friends. It would make it easier to buy food in bulk and then splitting something that is too big for one person or family — say a huge bag of chicken.
  • Locally grown jobs: Alazrak also argued, “At the end of the day, food insecurity is really about poverty,” and that to alleviate it long term, we need good jobs that won’t leave. Particularly ones that grow from the ground up and use a cooperative model to empower workers or members, he said.
  • Sharing seeds: In addition to growing food and sharing the bounty, Greensboro resident Kaira Wagoner also suggested sharing seeds “because you never need all the seeds that are in your package for a backyard-sized operation.” The Ardmore Gateway Garden in Winston-Salem is doing just that, Black Mountain Chocolate pastry consultant Megan Peters said.
  • Donating tips: Peters said the staff at the chocolate factory and shop decided to donate their cash tips, while keeping credit-card tips, to the Winston-Salem Rescue Mission next door.
  • Implement the USDA grant: Greensboro City Councilman Jamal Fox said implementing ideas that come out of a $25,000 US Department of Agriculture planning grant would go a long way. Fox said the council discusses food insecurity regularly, including at its most recent work session.
  • Task force: To that end, Fox said a task force on food insecurity has been in discussion for a while and could be a community-led initiative that reports to city council. There are so many entities doing so much, he said, and a task force could be a way to coordinate, know what resources exist, and come up with policy. He also invited people to send him their ideas.
  • Volunteer: There are countless opportunities and ways to volunteer. That includes growing food at the Betty & Jim Holmes Food Bank Garden in Winston-Salem where the produce is given to Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina, volunteer Shaheen Syal said. Feeding Lisa’s Kids in High Point can always use more hands too, Joe Blosser said.
  • Target resources: Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen is bursting with ideas, including the advice that it is very important to strategically target resources. He also applauded the Out of the Garden Project, which he said is now in 55 schools, as an important grassroots effort.

    A farm in Winston-Salem
    A farm in Winston-Salem
  • Capture food waste: Plenty of people said more can be done to collect food waste, with tireless advocate and volunteer Mary Lacklen adding that the Fresh Market goes above and beyond. UNCG student Sophia Lucente added: “Having worked a handful of low-wage food service jobs myself, I have watched everyday food waste — a cost that is just ‘part of the job’ for all the employees involved — from loaves of bread to gourmet meats to chips. I do not understand why there hasn’t been a citywide push for scrap and over-produced food donation that would benefit the homeless and hungry.”
  • Donation distribution: Share the Harvest co-director Lacklen said there needs to be a more efficient way to get food to the agencies and religious institutions and that serve it to those in need. There’s also food left in fields “that could feed many” but isn’t picked, she said. “If we could have a central distribution center where restaurants, grocery stores and caterers could donate usable leftovers, it could be a pick-up spot for these agencies and churches,” she said.
  • Education: It’s a topic that most interviewees touched on in some form, but one way it often isn’t considered is in regards to food donations. Lacklen said people are often afraid to donate because of liability concerns, but said Good Samaritan laws protect donating food. The bigger issue, she said, is that it’s time-consuming to donate when places scan each item, and the labor cost to do so often isn’t considered worthwhile to companies, she said.
  • Outreach: All sorts of outreach is happening. The more you look for it the more you’ll see it, like Candy West tabling at City Market about ideas for dealing with food deserts or fliers at local agencies.
  • 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.
  • Break bread: Black Mountain Chocolate pastry chef Megan Peters may have put it best. “Since deciding to become a chef and attending culinary school, I have become more and more disheartened by the realities of food insecurity,” she said. “I’ve always known it was there. Whether volunteering at the Winston-Salem Rescue Mission in my teens or sharing my lunch with someone who ‘forgot his/hers’ in grade school, I get this awful feeling in my gut thinking about the paradox of how America, land of the plenty, produces more food than we could possibly consume, and yet, people still go hungry. It’s one of the biggest and most alterable travesties in society today, I’d argue. I know I certainly need to do more to combat it. If only we’d stop and break cornbread with our fellow man.”
  • Brainstorm: A number of the people contacted for this article were surprised to be asked, given that they don’t consider themselves particularly active or aware, and certainly not an expert. But that was part of the point; this is a fundamental, inexcusable flaw in our society that demands all of our attention and solution-oriented thinking. Plus it’s one thing that all of us, regardless of how severely we’re affected by hunger or food insecurity, can do to help.

20 COMMENTS

  1. 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.

  2. 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

    • 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?

  3. 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/

      • 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.

        • 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.

          • 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

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