Tag Archives: food insecurity

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.

BGR Provides Emergency Aid to Yemeni Victims and Rohingya Refugees

By Tom Spies

In the second week of December, BGR made emergency donations to the World Food Program USA to provide assistance to two communities facing severe food shortages.  An emergency donation of $8,000 will help the World Food Programme provide aid to the people of Yemen; the other donation, of $4,000, will provide food assistance to the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar now living in displaced persons camps in Bangladesh.

In Yemen, over the past two years a sustained air assault by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia has left tens of thousands of civilians dead and millions of people internally displaced. An outbreak of cholera, the worst in the world, has affected hundreds of thousands of people, 30 percent of them children. One child in Yemen dies every 10 minutes due to preventable diseases. 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.
Continue reading

A Decision Cruel and Callous

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Embed from Getty Images

Much has been written over the last several days about the political and economic repercussions of Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out from the Paris Climate Agreement. It’s been pointed out that the decision will diminish our standing in the world and cast us in the role of a rogue state, a pariah among nations. Our economy will languish, overtaken by other countries that make the leap to full reliance on clean energy. The mantle of global leadership will pass to Europe and China, and we’ll find ourselves increasingly isolated on the international stage. To be an American abroad will become a mark of shame.

The decision to leave the Paris Accord, however, should be seen not only as an act of foolishness, arrogance, and delusional thinking, but also as an appalling expression of cruelty. The decision is cruel because it reveals a glaring deficit of compassion—a callous lack of concern for the billions of people around the world who are endangered by a more hostile climate. Sadly, it is those nations and peoples with the lightest carbon footprint that are being hit the hardest. Even before freak weather events began to multiply and inflict horrendous harm, smallholder farmers and day laborers in the developing world faced an uphill struggle just to put food on the table and get enough clean water to meet their daily needs. Now, assailed by ever more frequent and destructive climate disruptions, these same people find their very lives suspended over an abyss. Continue reading

Projects for Fiscal Year 2016–17—Part 6 (of 6)

BGR Staff

21. Peru: Vocational Education Training for Poor Women
NEW PARTNER

Founded in 1989, the Asociación Grupo de Trabajo Redes (AGTR) is devoted to providing vocational education to women and mothers employed in domestic work while teaching them about their human and labor rights. The Association runs an employment agency, La Casa de Panchita, to help women find jobs with adequate pay and respect for their skills.

This BGR partnership–along with the Nicaragua project our first in Latin America–will benefit women who have been employed in domestic work from childhood. The women find themselves struggling to provide proper nutrition, shelter, and other amenities to their families due to a paucity of employment options.These women are trapped in poverty, and as a result their daughters too will be trapped, thus perpetuating the cycle.

To break the poverty trap into which many girls are born, AGTR empowers women and mothers through vocational educational training. Through a grant from BGR, AGTR will provide training to 100 marginalized women who wish to undertake domestic work, while also giving access to employment through their employment agency. Utilizing an adequate salary, these women and their families will escape the misery of hunger, while their daughters escape the need to work and can remain in school. The women will be taught about their human and labor rights and will be given access to AGTR’s in-house employment agency, which upholds the standards of the organization.

Woman and Boys

No more kids under 14 working

The Vocational Educational Training (VET) workshops are divided into three 3- hour sessions. The women will learn about their labor rights as domestic workers, become better prepared to negotiate a just salary, and learn about the social benefits such as healthcare available to all individuals who are employed full time. After students complete the training, they are equipped to begin their search for just and decent employment. Continue reading

Projects for Fiscal Year 2016–17—Part 5 (of 6)

BGR Staff

17. Kenya: Improving Maternal and Child Nutrition     NEW PROJECT

 

In Kenya, undernutrition is a major problem among children. According to a 2014 survey, the rate of stunting among children in Kenya is 26%, wasting 4% and underweight 11%. Undernutrition is also a major contributing factor to the country’s high infant and maternal mortality rates. Helen Keller International (HKI), a long-time BGR partner, is working together with the Ministry of Health and Action Against Hunger to improve access, delivery, and utilization of essential nutrition-related services for mothers, newborns, and children (MNCH) in five counties in Western Kenya.

Among these, Kakamega County, which is densely populated with more than 1.6 million people and a poverty rate of over 50%, requires additional support in improving health and nutrition outcomes for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable women and children. A grant from BGR, the first in a three-year program, will enable HKI to provide critically needed technical support, improve access to nutritious food and supplements for mothers and young children, and strengthen accountability.

During the first year, HKI will increase demand for health services in Kakamega County and improve service delivery by the Ministry of Health. HKI will identify and promote locally appropriate mother, infant and young child feeding practices (e.g., the promotion of nutritionally dense locally available complementary foods) and improve the access and uptake of nutrition supplements provided by the Ministry of Health. The project will also strengthen Health Information Systems (HIS) through improved data collection and analysis of data in order to inform local and national decision-making.

This project has been made possible through a generous grant to BGR from the Chao Foundation. Year one of a three-year project. Continue reading

Projects for Fiscal Year 2016–17—Part 4 (of 6)

BGR Staff

13. India: A Girl’s Hostel & Women’s Community Center in Nagpur

bcttanov2014 039

The Bodhicitta Foundation is a socially engaged charity established in 2001 by the Australian Buddhist nun, Ayya Yeshe, to help Dalits (scheduled classes) and slum dwellers in the state of Maharashtra. With funding from BGR, Bodhicitta has established a girls’ hostel for thirty girls aged 16–22, who are being trained as social and health workers or to qualify in a vocation. The hostel helps them escape poverty, trafficking, and the sex industry. The girls, chosen because of their dedication to their studies, come from the poorest regions in India: 10 from Bihar, 10 from rural Maharashtra, and 10 from urban Nagpur slums.

The girls are now in their third year of training, after which they will return to their villages with the skills to empower other young girls. In this way, the thirty girls will become agents of change and establish institutions that will benefit hundreds of girls and women in the future. Such a project is especially important in India because investing in girls’ education can alleviate poverty and the ignorance that oppresses poor girls and women.

The other portion of the BGR grant to Bodhicitta supports a women’s job training and community center, where women receive education, loans, and business training to empower them to start their own businesses and gain income that will directly increase the well-being of their children, families, and communities, lifting them out of poverty. The community center creates space for awareness-raising, health workshops, counseling, career guidance, and quality education that is currently lacking in the difficult environment of a large industrial slum. Year three of a three-year project. Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

BGR Walk in Michigan

Maureen Bodenbach

Some 125 people joined the fifth annual Michigan Walk to Feed the Hungry on Sunday, September 27, held in the Kensington Park in Milford. Participants came from more than a dozen Buddhist groups from across Michigan. These ranged from Sri Lankan and Thai monasteries to a Korean Zen temple, the Chinese Chan and Pure Land traditions, members of several Vietnamese temples and students of Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh. They also included Westerners from various insight meditation groups in Ann Arbor, Lansing, and the metropolitan Detroit area. And there were lots of kids! Bringing families out was one of the goals of Ven. Haju Sunim of the Ann Arbor Zen Temple, so our youngest “walker” was just learning how to stand up from a crawl!

Walkers with banner
Continue reading

Projects for Fiscal Year 2015–16—Part 6 (of 6)

BGR Staff

US Projects

23. Detroit: Keep Growing Detroit

Keep Growing Detroit is a 501(c)3 nonprofit (registered 2014) operating in one of the most neglected cities in the US, where 20% of the residents are food insecure and the city’s jobless rate is 14.3%. Residents have limited access to grocery stores due to an unreliable mass transit system and buy their food at gas stations or convenience stores with bulletproof windows in monitored transactions. The mission of Keep Growing Detroit is to promote food sovereign so that the majority of fruits and vegetables Detroiters consume are grown by residents within city limits. The long-term strategy is to foster healthy relationships with food by increasing knowledge of food and farming, nurturing leadership skills, cultivating community connections and capacity, changing the value of food, and developing food assets.

The goal of this year’s project is to enable urban farmers to increase access to healthy fruits and vegetables and to facilitate educational and community events that promote healthy relationships of people to good nutritious food. The first objective is to support more than 1500 family, community, school and market gardens that will produce 150 tons of produce for predominately low-income families. The second objective is to facilitate 19 educational workshops and community events that will engage approximately 400 residents. Annually renewable project.
Continue reading