Author Archives: Charles W. Elliott

Creating a food oasis in an urban food desert: Easton Urban Farm

By Charles Elliott

Supported by BGR grants since 2018, the Easton Urban Farm (EUF) is a remarkable success story, providing fresh produce to low-income urban residents who struggle to afford basic necessities.  Located in the City of Easton, a small historic town nestled within Eastern Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, EUF serves an often marginalized population facing financial pressure from high rent increases, inflated food and gas prices, and reductions in governmental assistance such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/Food Stamps). Access to fresh fruits and vegetables is limited in Easton’s Southside and West Ward “food desert” neighborhoods, and the EUF helps fill this gap with its food pantry and direct distribution of fresh produce within the community.

The EUF is a program of the Easton Area Neighborhood Center, a non-profit organization serving area residents since 1967, whose mission is advancing social and economic justice and advocating for the rights of residents with limited resources. In addition to its food assistance, the Neighborhood Center offers a transitional housing program for homeless and “near homeless” families, and rental and utility assistance.

With help from BGR grants and the farm’s excellent stewardship of the land, EUF has dramatically increased its yield from 6,500 pounds of fresh produce in 2019 to more than 11,000 pounds (!) in 2021 on its 5/8 acre farm. Fresh and nutritious food is grown with organic practices, without chemical inputs.

The program year starts early in the year, in February, with an annual community “seed swap” that encourages community cohesion and recruitment of new volunteers.  The farm soil is prepared for planting, and seedlings are planted as early as weather permits. The day-to-day farming work is performed by volunteers, guided by a skilled master gardener. The master gardener not only guides the work of the farm but provides training in best practices for residents who want to create their own vegetable gardens to supplement their food supply at low cost. 

The early crops are ready for harvest by late April, and this produce is offered to area residents through the Center’s food pantry. From mid-June to mid-August, the farm’s produce is distributed through multiple outlets: Lafayette College’s Vegetables In the Community (VIC) program, the Salvation Army,  the Easton Area Community Center’s programs for senior citizens and children; and Harlan House (a high-rise senior citizen public housing building). From mid-August to the end of the year, the produce is distributed through the Center’s food pantry. In late fall, the master gardener plants cover crops to restore the nutrients in the soil and reduce the risk of disease.

This past year, the farm assisted 1,479 residents through just its food pantry distribution alone, including 555 children, 796 adults (18-65 years of age) and 128 senior citizens. The demographics of these beneficiaries reflected the wide racial and ethnic diversity of the community, including White, Hispanic, Asian, African-American, Pacific-Islander, and Indigenous People.

Beyond its direct food assistance, EUF is also a force for social good. It provides a place for community socializing and organizing. It has constructed wheelchair-accessible raised beds for the use of residents with limited mobility, and has received a County grant for a handicapped-accessible path to allow expanded access to farm programs. In 2021, the farm started a youth internship program, providing opportunities for five high school students to work on the Farm for eight weeks, developing good work habits and learning about farming. In addition, the program introduces low-income youth to other career opportunities, with a goal of encouraging them to dream beyond the horizons they may have envisioned for themselves.

The personal stories of EUF’s beneficiaries are poignant reminders of the difficulties faced by some in our communities through circumstances beyond their control and the importance of acts of compassion and charity.

Sue, her partner, and newborn son were relatively new arrivals in Easton, who found themselves homeless. The family was admitted in The Neighborhood Center’s transitional housing program. But soon thereafter, it emerged that the relationship between the couple was abusive and unsustainable. After a period of unsuccessful counseling, Sue’s partner was asked to leave.  As a stay-at-home mother with an infant, the departure of her partner left Sue without any income. The Center arranged for food to be delivered to Sue from the food pantry to cover the gaps between SNAP monthly allotments. She was willing to work but was caught in the Catch-22 of not qualifying for subsidized childcare without a job and not being able to work without subsidized childcare. The Center’s staff was able to successfully secure subsidized childcare for Sue, thus breaking this vicious cycle, and soon she was gainfully employed. Fresh produce from EUF enabled Sue and her infant to thrive during this difficult period with nutritious fresh produce she could rely upon.

Bob is a regular participant in the food pantry. He lives alone in a small apartment and receives a very modest monthly Social Security disability benefit. He is limited in his ability to work by significant intellectual impairments. Recently, his rent was increased from $600 to $650, and his landlord announced his intent to increase the rent even further to $900 a month as of January 2023. Bob was facing hugely increased housing costs caused by Easton’s overheated rental market, and the proposed monthly rent was more than Bob’s disability benefit. While a staff member was able to get the future rent increase reduced to $700 a month, Bob’s financial situation remains difficult and underscores the importance of the fresh produce supplied by EUF to prevent hunger and malnutrition.

The BGR grants provided to EUF have helped to offer a lifeline to disadvantaged Easton-area residents, securing healthy food for children and elderly alike, and changing their lives for the better.

Winning the Peace: Hunger and Instability

By Charles W. Elliott

An increasingly hungry world is increasingly unstable. A new report issued by the World Food Program USA—Winning the Peace: Hunger and Instability—presents an unprecedented view into the dynamics of the relationship between hunger and social instability.[1]

Based on exhaustive interdisciplinary queries of a database of 90,000,000 peer-reviewed journal articles, the report explores the underpinnings and drivers of humanitarian crises involving food insecurity and conflict. Continue reading

The World Reverses Progress on Global Hunger

By Charles W. Elliott

The newest U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (“FAO”) Annual Report on food security sends a “clear warning signal” of a troubling trend that reverses a long period of progress combating world hunger.

After A Prolonged Decline, World Hunger and Food Insecurity Worsen

FAO 2017 Food Security Report Cover

The 132-page data-rich report, The State of Food Security And Nutrition In The World 2017: Building Resilience For Peace And Food Security [1] notes that for the first time in many years the number of chronically malnourished people across the globe—as well as those suffering from acute hunger—has increased from the prior year, reversing a prolonged historic decline in world hunger. The number of undernourished people jumped from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016. Every continent except Europe and North America has suffered an increase in prevalence of malnutrition. The report identifies a variety of causes for this reversal and highlights the interrelationships between global hunger, armed conflict, and climate change.

Emerging from the data is a stark picture of 44,000,000 more people now suffering from severe food insecurity than there were just two years ago. In fact, nearly one in ten people around the world, about 689 million people, now suffers from severe food insecurity. (see Report, Table 2). The people of Africa suffer the highest levels of severe food insecurity—27.4 percent of the population, four times that of any other continent.
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Climate Change and Food System Shocks: Threats of Cascading Catastrophe

Charles W. Elliott

Food System Shocks
A global pre-eminent insurance market is waving red flags about the risk of climate-change shocks to our world food system that could quadruple the price of basic food commodities, cause widespread famine and social instability, and  bring down governments. Are world capitals paying attention?

Adding to the chorus of voices warning of threats to the global food system caused by climate change is global insurer Lloyds, which recently issued its report, “Food System Shock: The insurance impacts of acute disruption to global food supply“.  Food System Shock is one in a series of Lloyd “emerging risk” reports that address risks that are “perceived to be potentially significant but which may not be fully understood or allowed for in insurance terms and conditions, pricing, reserving or capital setting.”  This is not the first risk report on climate change issued by Lloyds (see, Lloyds’ Catastrophe Modelling and Climate Change (2014)), nor the first to address global food security (see, Lloyds’ Feast or Famine (2013)).  But it is the first by Lloyds to connect these two, explicitly addressing the impacts of climate change on food production and follow-on effects to society in a globalized economy.
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Food, Dignity, and the Commons: Frances Moore Lappé

Charles W. Elliott

Common Dreams has published an insightful interview with activist and author Frances Moore Lappé that illuminates the foundations of the struggle for a just global food economy: democracy and human dignity. Ms. Lappé is perhaps best known for her ground-breaking work on global hunger, recognizing that world hunger is not the result of insufficient food supplies but rather our industrial model of food production and the inability of the poor to access the available abundance of food or its means of production. In short, the problem of global hunger is the problem of poverty, the mal-distribution of political and economic power, and inequality. Acting upon this recognition, rather than a myth of scarcity, undermines multinational corporate attempts to more deeply entrench industrialized control over the global food supply.

Lappé argues that a solution to this inequality-driven hunger is the expansion of “living democracy”, exercised individually and collectively by each person’s daily choices of how we live, thus “infusing the power of citizens’ voices and values throughout our public lives.”  Continue reading

New Report: Feeding the World Without GMOs

Charles W. Elliott

Feeding the World Without GMOsA new report, Feeding The World Without GMOs , by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) refutes the corporate biotech/industrial narrative that genetically modified organism (GMO) foods offer real solutions to global hunger and food insecurity.

Despite significant progress over the past 30 years, the world still faces an ongoing crisis of hunger and food insecurity. 805 million people continue to go hungry, according to estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.[1] The world also faces a “hidden hunger” problem —micronutrient deficiency—which affects some two billion people, causing long-term, irreversible health effects and significantly impairing economic productivity. We face stark challenges posed by population growth: by 2050 the demand for food will be twice what it was in 2005.[2]

Feeding the World Without GMOs takes a hard look at ways to address this problem and concludes that GMO food is a non-solution. In nine pages of tight synthesis, it analyzes: (1) why GE crops don’t contribute to food security; (2) what would work to boost the global food supply; and (3) the unfulfilled promise of genetic engineering.
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Marching Toward A New Climate Future

Charles W. Elliott

BGR at Peoples Climate March

 

This past Sunday, Buddhist Global Relief joined 400,000 others at the People’s Climate March in New York to demand swift action to halt the threat of global climate change. The streets were filled with marchers as far as the eye could see with young and old, rich and poor, of all races and religions, joined by their common humanity.

Buddhist Global Relief was part of an Interfaith contingent of thousands that packed 58th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues so tightly there was barely room to breathe. Joining us were more than twenty other Buddhist groups in the common cause of compassion and concern for the world.

BGR Peoples Climate March
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There’s No Debate about Climate Change Denial

Charles W. Elliott

Originally published at DeSmogBlog

 

Fact and fantasy took the stage at this past Sunday’s CBS “Meet the Press”. Bill Nye and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R. Tenn.) appeared for a so-called “debate” on climate change. Bill Nye is best known for his educational science program “Bill Nye the Science Guy”.  Climate change-denier Blackburn is known, among other things, for echoing Sarah Palin’s claims that the Affordable Care Act included “death panels.” Somewhat less known is Blackburn’s role as vice-chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, responsible for legislative oversight on matters of public health, air quality and environmental health, and energy.

One would think that a person in such an important role would have a clear, if not advanced, understanding of the science of energy and climate change in order to guide policy to further the public interest and protect our children’s future.

Sadly, one would be wrong.
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Super-Typhoon Devastates the Philippines – Emergency Aid Needed Now

World Food Programme Emergency Aid for the PhilippinesTyphoon Haiyan has caused massive loss of life and destruction in the Philippine Islands. The typhoon – described as perhaps the largest tropical storm ever to hit land in recorded history – has left nearly half a million people in the Philippines homeless and without basic necessities.  Those children and families need your help.  Please consider making a donation to the United Nations World Food Programme – the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger. You can make a donation at: https://www.wfp.org/donate/typhoon

Oxfam International is accepting donations for emergency relief at: http://www.oxfam.org/en/emergencies/typhoon-haiyan

You can also make a $10 donation to UNICEF USA by texting “RELIEF” to 864233

A Buddhist teaching  from the Tibetan Mahayana tradition is to think of all beings as our mothers. Recognizing that all of these suffering beings have been our mothers and in every other close relationship with us since beginningless time, we urge you to help as generously as possible.

The Costs of Economic Inequality: Social, Political, and Moral

by Charles W. Elliott

Gandhi once famously said: “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” Over the past decade, we have witnessed an unprecedented grab of wealth—with its associated power and influence—by a few at the expense of everyone else. This increasing concentration of wealth for a few in the face of continuing struggles of poor and middle class families just to make ends meet is the consequence of public and economic policies that favor private interests over the public good. This inequality corrupts our political system.  And it ultimately corrodes social cohesion and threatens widespread unrest.

Most people do not have a true perspective of the gross inequality in our economic systems. Fewer still understand its corrosive effects. As writer Michael Lind observed in his article “To Have and to Have Not”[1]:

 The American oligarchy spares no pains in promoting the belief that it does not exist, but the success of its disappearing act depends on equally strenuous efforts on the part of an American public anxious to believe in egalitarian fictions and unwilling to see what is hidden in plain sight.

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