It’s that time of year. Farmers are bringing in the final crops. Our gardens are producing small mountains of squash that will be passed around neighborhoods and offices for the remainder of fall. Heaping holiday tables are just days away. Living amid such abundance, it’s hard to imagine that one in 11 people in our community is hungry.
Little of the healthy produce, fresh dairy and protein-rich meat our state is famous for reaches the tables of those in need.
It’s tough to face, but hunger persists in our community and it is as widespread as it is devastating. Our community’s network of food shelves saw more visits than ever last year. Healthy options like fresh produce, meat, dairy and pantry items — such as cooking oils — are in high demand.
There’s more than enough of these foods to go around, but they’re not making it to people in need and the consequences are dire. People who regularly use food shelves live with six times the diet-related diseases as those who are food secure. The Harvard School of Public Health recently declared the long-term health outlook for those reliant on cheap calories to be grim. Specifically, consumption of easy-to-find-and-afford convenience food increases weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and risk of premature death.
Second Harvest Heartland and The Food Group — local food banks — have introduced new policies and initiatives to ensure that nutritious food is more available, making the healthy choice a real choice.
Both organizations are stepping up their work with farmers and volunteers to ensure that fresh, local veggies are available to everyone. The Food Group coordinates produce rescue efforts throughout the season at the Minneapolis Farmers Market and across local farms and orchards to collect excess food that would otherwise go to waste. They collaborate with farmers historically underrepresented in farm ownership to grow organic produce to share.
Similarly, Second Harvest Heartland is working with farmers and retailers to rescue millions of pounds of surplus food to ensure that food shelves across the state can offer their clients fresh greens, milk and turkey along with boxed and canned foods.
By 2023, Second Harvest Heartland will deliver more hard-to-come-by foods on a larger scale. With the help of food shelf and other hunger-relief partners, we will double the amount of lean protein distributed, ensure year-round access to milk and increase the volume of fruits and vegetables in our mix.
At the same time, The Food Group is deepening its work to use local foods, introducing a unique retail model called Fare for All and investing in farmer education and advocacy efforts to fight hunger.
You can help.
Hunger affects every ZIP code in Minnesota. Kids, seniors, working parents, veterans and students — our neighbors — are hungry right now. Nearly three quarters of the people who ask for our help are working families who are struggling with under-employment and the rising costs of living.
The good news is, we have enough food to go around. If every Minnesotan volunteers their time, for just a few hours, or shares a few dollars, we’ll be able to fill every table this harvest season.
Sophia Lenarz-Coy is executive director, The Food Group. Allison O’Toole is CEO, Second Harvest Heartland.