Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fields to Families

Have you ever had to make the decision to purchase fresh produce or to purchase packaged and canned foods based on your income? You do not have to be homeless to be hungry. Hunger is a complex and many-faceted tragedy that holds a large part of the world’s family in bondage. It is a single parent who has to choose between paying the heating bill to keep the family warm or the food they need to stay healthy. It is the elderly person who dilutes soup with water to make it last longer, wondering how to pay for the medical bills that are accumulating. It is the child who acts out in aggression at school because he or she had nothing to eat the night before. It could be your neighbor.

Many think the tragedy is too massive for one person’s action to be effective. This is not true. Each person can make an impact for those less fortunate in the world. Good, healthy food is a basic human right that each and every person, regardless of income level, deserves access to.
Hunger and food insecurity—not knowing where your next meal is coming from—is a major problem. According to a November, 2008 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) report, more than one in ten South Carolinians are identified as “food insecure,” and almost one in four of South Carolina’s children live in poverty. Thankfully, there are organizations that are rising to the challenge and going above and beyond in their efforts to not only feed the hungry, but to provide them with healthy, nutritious food to boost their quality of life and encourage sustainability.

Jacki Baer, a transplant to South Carolina from New York, founded Fields to Families in 2006. According to the USDA, 27 percent of our national food supply is thrown away every year because of cosmetic damages, mislabeling, weight errors and overproduction. Twenty-six million tons of food is wasted each year in the United States. Americans throw out $75 million worth of food each year. Fields to Families is a nonprofit, completely volunteer based organization that works to fight hunger in the local community. Baer has coordinated with local farms, farmers markets, and individual gardeners to rescue fresh produce, fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be wasted.

Although government assistance is available to some of those who need it, not everybody qualifies for Food Stamps or other food-assistance programs. The assistance received also does not guarantee access to fresh food. Most food received from emergency food programs are canned and packaged. The healthier, more nutritious foods can be expensive in comparison to the readily available, cheap, processed food or fast food. Food stamps are accepted at some farmers markets, but certainly not all of them. Many people with limited incomes do not live near farms, farmers markets, or grocery stores. Also, many do not have access to reliable transportation to get to these places. This is why Fields to Families is such an important organization in the Lowcountry community. It bridges the gap between the availability of healthy food and the needy.

Baer has built the organization from grassroots in three years. Even with the success the organization has had, she confesses, “We have no steady income. We get small grants from a major company once in a while, but don’t have any corporate sponsors. So right now we are actively seeking funding.” While the organization is working to meet the needs of the hungry population in the area, there is much more to do. They are also working hard to pursue the future needs of the community by building a farm, called the Fields to Families Garden Project, which estimates show will boost the amount of meals served by at least 30 percent.

Baer is thankful and supportive of the volunteers who work with the program. “That’s why our organization has succeeded: people come to us who are passionate about the homeless and the hungry.” With over 400 registered volunteers, the organization is able to connect to the community by creating an outreach program and establishing themselves at local farmers markets, not just to promote their organization, but to create an awareness of the needs of the community.

Hunger is a relevant issue, especially in these economic times. There are many opportunities to get involved in your local communities. Please do not hesitate to investigate those chances you have to make a difference. It could be you someday.