Communities Need Local Food for Nutrition, Security

Communities Need Local Food for Nutrition, Security

Availability of local food is key to improving health and food security, according to MU public health expert.

Most strategies to assist the hungry, including food banks and providing food stamps through USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are short-term, emergency solutions. Those who rely on these programs face daily shortages of fresh and healthy foods, which lead to poor diet choices, nutritional deficiencies and health problems.

An expert at the University of Missouri says the production of sustainable, locally grown foods is key to providing long-term food security for communities. Michelle Kaiser, a public health researcher, says that access to fresh, healthy foods is a human right. Increasing availability of whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, will benefit the health of the environment and the people consuming it.  

"People should be able to get healthy food consistently," Kaiser says. "Access to healthy food will benefit the health of the environment and the people consuming it."

Healthy, affordable food availability is an issue in urban areas, as well as rural areas. "People don't think of rural areas as places without healthy foods," Kaiser says. "However, many people live miles from the nearest store, and this makes them less likely to buy fresh, perishable foods because they buy groceries less often. In urban areas, many people buy their food from restaurants or convenience stores, where nutritious food is scarce. Even if there is a nearby grocery store, many people don't have access to reliable transportation to those stores."

Local food production reduces the economic and environmental impact of transporting food. Increasing the availability of whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, enables people to avoid processed, unhealthy foods. Kaiser describes a few strategies that policy makers and individuals can use to improve access to local, healthy food. 

* Farmers can sponsor community supported agriculture programs and ask consumers to purchase shares of their harvests prior to the growing season. Each week, consumers receive portions of seasonal fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs. A challenge to CSAs is that governmental assistance is not available; consumers directly purchase shares of the harvest rather than food.

* Farmers' markets bring locally grown crops to people that might otherwise have difficulty finding fresh, healthy food. Many farmers' markets accept food stamps as payments.

*Community and personal gardens can be planted anywhere from rooftops to apartment complexes. Kaiser says gardens bring people closer to their food and their neighbors. Gardens are increasingly being used by schools as educational tools.

Earlier this spring, the 10,000 Garden Challenge was launched by Governor Jay Nixon, First Lady Georganne Nixon, and Director Jon Hagler of the Missouri Department of Agriculture. They challenged Missourians to register 10,000 gardens in the state of Missouri and put them on a map to promote gardening, health and nutrition throughout the state. More than 10,000 people have visited the 10,000 Garden Challenge website to gain valuable information and more than 2,500 gardeners have signed up to help reach the goal of registering 10,000 gardens.

Source: MU News Bureau and Missouri Department of Agriculture

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