By: Grace Plihal, Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA
Food justice is environmental justice. When our soil is healthy, our food is healthy and grows in abundance. When it is unhealthy, nutrient-dense food becomes scarce and expensive. When crops become scarce, “food deserts” emerge– areas in which food is difficult to obtain. Food deserts are most often located in low-income areas. According to the DC Policy Center, almost 11% of DC is a food desert. And a 2014 study by Virginia Tech found that more than 1.4 million people live in low food access areas throughout the state of Virginia.
In Fairfax County specifically– a county that used to be mostly farmland, and is now overwhelmingly residential– about 6.6% of the population lives in poverty. Most residents are completely removed from the food system, and some cannot afford to eat three square meals per day. This is where Food for Others comes in.
Food for Others is the largest food bank in the Northern Virginia region. The Harvest Against Hunger program in conjunction with Food for Others works to recover fresh produce, alleviate food insecurity and promote nutritious eating through gleaning and gardening efforts. Ten farms across the state of Virginia partnered with Food for Others this year, providing the food bank with discounted CSA shares, leftover produce from market, and orchard and field gleaning. The fresh farm produce– that would have otherwise gone to waste– overflowed from the shelves at Food for Others during harvest season. The donations helped to cement the belief that everyone deserves to eat good, healthy food, regardless of their income level.
Peace Lutheran Church has also helped the program in a different, innovative way: the church provided a small patch of land on the property to be used as a community garden for Food for Others. Three different families that are clients of Food for Others received two raised beds that they used to grow their own food in from May to November 2018. Together, they grew over 100 pounds of food that they used to feed their families through the harvest season.
You, too, can contribute to the mission of Food for Others this spring and beyond. If you have a green thumb and a giving spirit, commit to growing a row of veggies for Food for Others this season– or even replicating Peace Lutheran’s community garden at your own church. In addition to environmental benefits such as soil replenishment and providing a sanctuary for pollinators, and contributing to a healthier future for your NoVA neighbors, gardening has been proven to have measurable individual mental and physical health benefits.
Environmental justice, food justice and social justice are unequivocally linked. If you are moved to help work towards a more equitable future in Northern Virginia, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to see how you can best use your skills to help!