Urban and community gardens, and small-scale farming, are a growing trend in Memphis and across the nation. With mounting concerns about commercial farming practices, and rising obesity, cancer, and diabetes cases, Americans are looking to get back in touch with the earth by reconnecting to their food sources by searching out the healthiest, safest options available. This trend is positive for everyone. Americans are becoming more conscious of what they’re eating, where it comes from, and how it is grown or raised. Farmers are also benefitting by reconnecting with their local communities via a growing number of Farmer’s Markets and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs, which are making healthier food options more accessible to everyone. Community members get to know their farmers while they’re putting their money back into the local economy. In return, people are eating healthier.
But not everyone.
Organically grown produce is always going to be healthier for you than anything that you buy in a package. But sadly, the cheaper, easier option is usually going to be packaged food. This system is backwards and creates disconnection from real food and nutrition knowledge. The result is that the poorest, most vulnerable people in our communities are eating the worst food because it’s what they can afford, all they think they have time to eat between jobs or all they have access to without traveling a far distance from their homes.
This isn’t fair. It’s downright unacceptable.
People who are struggling should not be left with unhealthy food choices because they can’t afford to buy $4 bell peppers from an organic market or because they are not able to travel to the one local farmer’s market in their town. Every person deserves access to clean, safe, healthy food, regardless of where they find themselves in life. And a healthier diet for all Americans will benefit our society.
A healthier diet equals a healthier population; which equals less healthcare costs, fewer hospital visits, less help needs, the list goes on and on. Poverty and malnutrition rates in America are staggering and over 50% of children in Memphis live in poverty. It’s so bad here that the Mid-South Food Bank has a program in the public schools that sends backpacks full of easy-to-eat food home with children on Fridays, simply to make sure that they don’t go hungry all weekend. The children bring the backpacks back to school each Monday to be refilled and returned to them for the next weekend.
The program has a constant waiting list. This alone should drive every single one of us to do something to help end this tragic reality. These children go to bed hungry, wake up hungry, and are expected to focus, learn, and succeed?
This backpack program is filling a huge void for many kids, but the food that they receive is mostly packaged, processed ‘food’ full of sugar and chemicals, because it’s the cheapest and easiest option. How great would it be if these kids learned from a very early age to pick the fruit over the snack mix, a salad over the mac-n-cheese? How much better would they feel on a daily basis? Would their attention spans improve? Would levels of obesity and diabetes decrease? We’ll never know if we don’t try.
The Community Table Garden, which has operated on the old Anderton’s lot in Midtown Memphis for the last two years, thanks to the gracious generosity of Huey’s for loaning us the land, is an urban organic garden that donates all the organic produce it grows and harvests directly to the Mid-South Food Bank and local soup kitchens, to further the mission of providing easy access for every person to clean, safe, healthy produce. We have donated over 2,000 lbs. of organic produce over the last two years, including radishes, greens, beets, broccoli, okra, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, cantaloupe, squash, basil, parsley, zucchini, cabbage, carrots, and more.
The Mid-South Food Bank has a pantry with fresh produce choices available to all the organizations they serve and other local groups, including some community gardens and even some farmers markets, give a portion of their produce to the pantry. But it is never enough.
We, as the city of Memphis, need to insure that all members of our community, especially children, whether homeless or wealthy, have access to healthy, nutritious food. It should not be a luxury provided only to the privileged.
In the long run, this movement will benefit all of us. The Community Table Garden is working diligently to raise funds to continue our mission through 2016, and see our garden expanded, despite unexpectedly losing our funding this year – but we truly NEED the community’s help.
Please consider making a contribution to our fundraiser to Save the Food Bank Garden. If everyone does just a little bit, we can change the reality of the health & wealth of our city. All it takes is a little sun and water.
Sarah Needham Taylor is a Food Activist and a vegetable lover.