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.
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.
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.
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